SIDS: the number one cause of death in infants from 1 month to 1 year
The words Sudden Infant Death Syndrome strike fear in the hearts of parents with a new baby. In the United States alone, this fear is a horrifying reality for the bereaved parents of approximately 2,500 babies per year. Although the rate of SIDS has decreased by over 50 percent since 1983, it is still the leading cause of death in infants from 1 month to 1 year old.
What is SIDS exactly?
SIDS, by definition, is the death of a child under the age of one year, that remains unexplained after an investigation that includes a complete autopsy, review of the clinical history and an examination of the scene where the death occurred. From research, it has been determined that the foremost risk factor for SIDS is stomach sleeping. This discovery has led to the "Back to Sleep" campaign and the Academy of Pediatrics recommendation in 1992 to have all healthy infants put to sleep on their backs.
What other potential risk factors are there?
Other potential risk factors for SIDS include the mother smoking or drinking during pregnancy, exposure to second hand smoke after birth, poor prenatal care, overheating from blankets and nightwear, low birth weight, prematurity, and the mother being younger than 20 years of age. Taking precautions, such as ensuring the baby does not become too warm and remains on their back while sleeping, having a firm mattress in the baby's crib or bassinet, and not smoking or drinking during pregnancy, may reduce the risk of SIDS. Even taking all the necessary precautions does not guarantee that Sudden Infant Death Syndrome will not take the life of a healthy infant. Risk factors should not be confused with the cause of SIDS. Although research has helped to decrease the number of SIDS cases, the culprit still remains elusive.
Feelings of guilt can add stress and trauma to the loss
The death of a child from SIDS is both traumatic and frightening for the bereaved parents. Not only do they have to wrestle with the incomprehensible reality that their child has died, but in some instances they have to put their grief on hold while an investigation into their child's death is performed. Guilt, whether warranted or not, is common to those who have experienced the death of a child. Parents are supposed to protect their children from harm. When the unthinkable happens, it is natural for feelings of guilt to surface. Having to be "cleared" from the possibility of causing their child's death adds additional stress and trauma to the bereaved parents.
Most SIDS deaths are associated with sleep. This is the basis for the common reference to "crib death" when talking about SIDS. As the name implies, SIDS is sudden and unexpected. One moment the parents are caring for, by all appearances, a healthy baby. The next moment, the parents are faced with their greatest fear upon finding their child dead in their crib or bassinet. A traumatic succession of events usually occurs following a death from SIDS. This includes the parents discovering their baby is no longer breathing, performing CPR, and calling an ambulance. This will be a vivid memory that the bereaved parents will carry with them always.
Recovery will take time and patience
Recovering from such a traumatic unexpected death of a child takes time and patience. Those close to the bereaved parents, and the bereaved parents themselves, should not believe that they will be "all right" after a few short months. Loss of this magnitude can take up to two years to move through the darkest period of grief. Life, as the bereaved parents knew it before their loss, will never be what it once was. This does not mean that normalcy will not be achieved or that life will never have meaning. The bereaved parents will find they have a "new" normal. A life that has been deeply touched by the death of a child is irrevocably changed.
Do not suffer alone - others can provide valuable help
After the death of a child, it is crucial that the bereaved parents seek support from a mental health care provider, family, friends, or other bereaved parents. The utter despair bereaved parents feel, after their child dies, is crippling. They feel alone, as if no one could truly understand how desperately they hurt and how bewildering life has become. Expressing their deepest emotions and talking with other parents who have also experienced the death of a child can be a bittersweet comfort.
Support groups are beneficial in finding consolation after a loss due to SIDS. Hospitals are a wonderful resource for bereaved parents and often offer support groups for those suffering from loss. There are also on-line support groups, like The MISS Foundation, that have forums for parents to connect with other parents who have experienced the death of a child.
SIDS: a difficult bereavement
Experiencing the death of a child is devastating. No parent expects to outlive their child. This goes against the natural order of life and death. It is normal for bereaved parents to question "why" their child died. In cases of SIDS the answers are not forthcoming. This can make closure and recovering from grief difficult, but not impossible.
There are various ways to honor one's child who died and ways to cope while grieving a traumatic loss. Reading the different articles on this website can help a bereaved parent to amass information to assist them on this difficult journey. Further information can also be found at the American Sudden Infant Death Syndrome Institute.
Further sources of information
You may find our other articles in the Children: coping with the death of a child section helpful too.
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