SIDS & Accidental Suffocation
SIDS, an unexplained infant death resulting from an unknown medical abnormality or vulnerability is usually classified a natural death. Accidental suffocation, a death resulting from full or partial airway obstruction causing death from oxygen deprivation and increased carbon monoxide, is classified as accidental. In most cases of sleep-related infant death, it is impossible to make a definitive classification of SIDS vs. accidental suffocation. Autopsy findings are similar and death scenes often reveal possible asphyxiating conditions, such as prone sleep or co-bedding, without clear evidence of airway obstruction.
In the United States in the last 20 years there has been a decrease in deaths classified as SIDS and an increase in those classified as accidental suffocation. Sleep-related deaths have leveled off at about 4,000 each year.
One theory is that most sleep-related deaths are caused from a combination of infant vulnerability and asphyxiating conditions and can be seen as existing on a continuum of highly vulnerable infant/safe environment to normal infant/highly asphyxiating environment.
To reduce the risk of a sleep-related death there are generally 4 theoretical approaches
- Decrease infant’s medical vulnerability. This is only possible through increased medical research to understand such things as genetic abnormalities, brain abnormalities, prematurity and other pregnancy related medical risks.
- Keep the child’s airway free. Avoid prone (stomach) sleep, bed sharing and cluttered sleep surfaces.
- Don’t do anything to decrease the infant’s arousal. Avoid prone sleep, bed sharing, over-heating, and sedation. Avoid risks of infections.
- Don’t do anything to decrease the parent’s arousal. Avoid situations leading to exhaustion as well as alcohol & drug sedation.