Sudden infant death syndrome for child
The thought that their child could die an unexplained sudden death without a sound is one of the nightmares that haunts parents. Cot death, as the sudden infant death syndrome is commonly known, is possibly the most terrible experience parents can face, with a burden of guilt and recrimination almost too great to bear. Yet there is no way they could have foreseen the tragedy or have done anything to prevent it. Fortunately the percentage of children affected is small and scientists are slowly finding clues to the mystery, and eventually there may be some way of predicting or preventing these deaths. At present a number of possible causes and reasons as to why children between the ages of one month and a year sometimes die suddenly and without a sound are being investigated. And there are certain procedures that can be followed in cases where careful
monitoring has shown that a baby may be at risk. But these screening techniques are costly and only available at large centres.
Some of the theories that scientists are working on may eventually lead to a clearer picture of why some babies are more susceptible to certain influences.
Modern theory has it that sudden cot deaths are due to sleep apnoea (the tendency to stop breathing for a period during sleep). These babies seem to have an abnormality of the mechanism in the brain which modifies breathing in response to levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood. Thus a baby may go to sleep and never awake simply because she has stopped breathing for too long. A monitoring device that sounds an alarm as soon as a baby stops breathing for 20 seconds or if her heart rate slows has been devised and many apnoea-prone babies have been saved. However the device is expensive and not foolproof, and most babies die from a first attack before parents can get medical advice. But some babies have ‘near miss’ episodes and this method has been tried for these children.
Machines that record the cries of babies have shown that certain infants have a different cry to that of normal babies. This may help pin-point potential SID victims so that a careful watch can be kept on them until the critical period has passed.
Some experts believe that babies may die as a result of a fault in the electrical impulses that stimulate the heart to beat, resulting in a kind of ‘heart attack’. In spite of these theories, sudden infant death remains a mystery.
The final answer is likely to be that there are many causes and combinations that can result in the unexplained death of a baby. For the parents of children who have died mysteriously, pin-pointing reasons for the tragedy may help ease the burden of guilt and self-recrimination that adds to their loss. While more efficient monitoring of potential SID victims will, hopefully, prevent fatalities, nothing can assuage the anguish of parents whose child has died a sudden unexplained death. The sympathetic understanding of others who have been through the same agony can help them come to terms with it, and a society has been formed to disseminate information about SID and provide support to parents. (See p. 306.)