The Potential of Technology To Reduce SUIDs In Babies
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) has to be every mum’s worst nightmare. Whilst the numbers of babies dying from the condition has dramatically declined since the back to sleep campaign began in 1994, in the US there are still around 3500 SUIDs per year, around 44% of these are caused by SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), 25% by accidental suffocation or strangulation in bed and a further 31% die without any cause being known. Even in a small country like the UK according to the National Childbirth Trust there are still over 300 unexpected deaths of babies in the UK each year.
SUID (Sudden Unidentified Infant Death) is frightening, because it’s almost always a silent death. Babies are put down to sleep and simply never wake up. The cause of these deaths are often unknown, however it’s widely accepted that their cause is probably as a result of multiple contributing factors, rather than because of one single event.
One leading hypothesis as to the cause of these deaths is that some babies may have an immaturity in their brain that causes them to fail to be aroused from sleep by a variety of stimuli. The damaged pathways can affect a baby’s breathing, heart-rate and blood-pressure especially when they are awakening from sleep. These difficulties can mean that babies continue sleeping even through those stimuli which are stressful and would normally arouse babies for their own safety, such as burying their mouth and nose against a mattress. This can mean that a baby’s oxygen and carbon dioxide levels can be dangerously affected. Rebreathing trapped air and hyperthermia (overheating) are also thought to play a part.
So how as parents can we help to protect our children from these terrifying silent deaths?
Official guidelines say:
• A baby should always sleep on their back
• A baby should be kept smoke free both before and after birth
• A baby should sleep in a separate cot or moses basket in the same room as you for at least the first six months
• Breastfeeding can help reduce the risk.
• Use a firm, flat, waterproof mattress in a good condition that complies to safety guidelines
• Remove all pillows, soft bedding, cot bumpers and soft toys from the cot.
However unfortunately, as my mum is fond of saying, babies do not read books. And if you, like me and over 50% of British households find yourself occasionally (or not so occasionally) co-sleeping with your baby, in order to preserve your sanity and stave off sleep deprivation at least slightly, it’s likely that you ignore several of these rules on a fairly frequent basis. After all, nobody wants to live with a baby (or mummy) who doesn’t get their sleep.
So why then, even without many of us following all of these guidelines, at least some of the time do SUIDs continue to decline?
There are as with everything, different opinions about just why this is the case, but increasingly people are beginning to wonder whether technology is at least part of the answer. With a new generation of baby monitors on the market that go far beyond simply hearing whether your baby is crying, there has never been a better time to keep your baby safe.
These monitors are far more than a listening device, far more even than a video monitor, these are monitors that employ sophisticated hospital-like technology to analyse a baby’s heart rate and oxygen levels, whilst providing real time data to parents. These are monitors which can tell parents when a baby is awake without the baby making a single sound, monitors which can detect even the smallest change in a baby’s heart rate, monitors which will ensure parents know there is a problem the second it happens, monitors that will mean you can get help if your baby stops breathing instantly, monitors that may help protect them against a SUID.
Of course, technology can never replace good parenting and common sense, nor does it diminish the importance of the world health authority guidance for preventing SUIDs. However, in a battle which no one really knows how to win, its importance shouldn’t be diminished either. After all any extra tool in our armoury against SUID, especially one that can immediately tell us if a baby has stopped breathing, has to be a good thing.
Centres for Disease Control and Protection. 2016. Sudden Unexpected Infant Death and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/sids/data.htm. [Accessed 28 July 2016].
Lullaby Trust. 2016. Safer Sleep For Babies. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.lullabytrust.org.uk/safer-sleep. [Accessed 28 July 2016].
MedicineNet. 2015. What is the cause of SIDS?. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.medicinenet.com/sids/page2.htm. [Accessed 28 July 2016].
National Centre for Education in Maternal and Child Health. 2013. SUID/ SIDS Statistics. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.ncemch.org/suid-sids/statistics/. [Accessed 28 July 2016].
National Childbirth Trust. 2013. NCT response to the increased risk of SIDs when bed sharing. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.nct.org.uk/press-release/nct-response-increased-risks-sids-when-bed-sharing. [Accessed 28 July 2016].