Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) – also known as cot death – is the sudden,
What you need to know unexpected and unexplained death of an apparently healthy baby.
According to neonatal specialist Dr Natasha Rhoda, from the Groote Schuur Hospital in the Western Cape, while there are distinctive features associated with the syndrome,
there are no diagnostic features that can be attributed to a SIDS death. She explained that SIDS is only diagnosed as a cause of death after all other possible causes have been investigated and ruled out.
“SIDS is diagnosed after a thorough investigation, including a complete autopsy.
There is also a review of the child’s medical and clinical history.
A death scene investigation, which includes thorough investigation of the sleep environment, bedding and position, is also part of the investigation,” she said.
Dr Rhoda, who is researching SIDS for her doctoral studies, said SIDS is typically associated with sleep
and is presumed to have happened during sleep or in the phase between sleeping and waking up.
“Approximately 95 percent of SIDS deaths occur in the first six months of life, with a peak in infants aged between two to four months,” she said.
Currently, there is no reliable data for SIDS deaths in South Africa.
“In low and middle-income countries we do not have any reliable or accurate data for SIDS rates. Few studies exist.
We don’t know the SIDS rates in South Africa because we do not have the full resources to perform autopsies and investigations in all sudden and unexpected deaths.
So, we can’t accurately diagnose SIDS country-wide,” explained Dr Rhoda.
A new child death review system will investigate all unnatural deaths of children younger than 18. Preventing cot deaths There are ways to minimise the risk of SIDS.
“Do not allow infants to sleep on their tummies or on their sides because this has a 15 times increased risk of SIDS. Let babies sleep on their backs,” Dr Rhoda said.
An unsafe sleeping environment, such as overheating, soft bedding or bed sharing are also high risks, added Dr Natasha O’Connell, a paediatrician from the Western Cape’s Khayelitsha District Hospital.
Parents should use fi rm bedding and avoid soft surfaces, like mattresses and sheepskin,
because there is a risk that the surface depresses under the weight of the infant which may result in suffocation, overlaying or overheating. Infants should also not sleep on a couch or sofa.
The exposure of a child to cigarette smoke increases the risk of SIDS up to fi ve times.
Infants should be in a smoke-free environment and mothers should stop or reduce smoking during pregnancy and at home.
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