Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) looms over many new parents like a poltergeist, an unpredictable thief of life and joy. It is the third most common cause of infant mortality in the US (0.6 deaths per 1,000 live births), yet it is still little understood. SIDS is such a visceral fear for parents that an entire industry has popped up claiming to provide parents with early notice should their baby stop breathing in the night, for the low-low price of $199.99 per device. Unfortunately for many concerned parents these devices are unlikely to have any positive effect on SIDS deaths.
That’s why we weren’t surprised when a number of readers forwarded us this article from the Seattle Times that claims, One Seattle Children’s Doctor Thinks He’s Close to Stopping SIDS. Each reader said the article gave them a sense of safety and relief to know that since their infants had passed their hospital hearing tests, they were considered safe from SIDS. When we read the article Julia and I came away with a different understanding, which is why we haven’t shared the article.
So, is the article bunk or what? Has this doctor really found the cause of SIDS?
The answer to this lies somewhere in the middle, it is neither bunk, nor is it science … yet. The physician named in the article, Dr. Daniel D. Rubens, is indeed a practicing, board certified anesthesiologist with Seattle Children’s Hospital, with a special interest in SIDS. He’s formed the SIDS Research Guild at Seattle Children’s and is currently seeking funding to further his research into the causes of SIDS.
While Julia and I read the article and saw a plea for research funding, not a definitive answer on SIDS, as many readers did. This is because Julia and I have either been in that position or have been on the receiving end of these pitches. But the way the article is worded, it could easily be interpreted as an announcement of new findings.
Dr. Rubens hypothesis that the inner ear dysfunction plays a role in SIDS is supported by initial research, much of which has been conducted by Dr. Rubens himself. This doesn’t invalidate his existing research, but we hold off saying that something is a scientific fact until others can replicate findings independently.
To get an independent take on the article, we reached out to Dr. Rachel Moon, Associate Chief, Division of General Pediatrics and Community Health, and a SIDS researcher at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, DC. Dr. Moon feels that Dr. Rubens findings are compelling, but should be considered preliminary at this point, and parents shouldn’t change their behaviors based on the article or panic if their infant fails a newborn hearing test.
For right now, Dr. Moon says parents should follow these guidelines to reduce their baby’s chance of SIDS:
- Put your infant to sleep on their back back
- Infants should sleep in a crib with a firm surface, with nothing else in the crib except for the baby
- Sleep in a crib next to the parents’ bed for the first months of life
- Do not sleep on the same surface with another person
- Never sleep on a couch, sofa, or armchair
- Avoid smoke exposure, both during pregnancy and after birth
- Breastfeed for as long and as much as possible
- Avoid exposure to alcohol and illicit drugs during pregnancy and after birth
- Offer a pacifier at sleep time
- Immunize your baby
Hoyert, D. and Xu, J. National Vital Statistics Report: Deaths: Preliminary Data for 2011. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 61:6. October 10, 2012
Alexandra Sifferlin. Don’t count on Smart Baby Monitors to Prevent SIDS. Time Magazine. November 19, 2014.
King, D. Marketing Wearable Home Baby Monitors: Real Peace of Mind? The British Medical Journal. doi: 10.1136/bmj.g6639
Nicole Brodeur. One Seattle Children’s doctor is close to stopping SIDS. The Seattle Times. April 3, 2015.
Seattle Children’s Hospital. Find a doctor: Daniel D. Rubens. Retrieved April 28, 2015.
Seattle Children’s Hospital. SIDS Research Guild. Retrieved April 28, 2015.
National Institutes of Health. Pub Med Search: SIDS + “inner ear.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved April 28, 2015.
Children’s National Health System. Find a doctor: Rachel Moon, MD. Retrieved April 28, 2015.
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and other sleep-related causes of infant death. September 2012. Retrieved April 28, 2015.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. SIDS and SUID > Parents and Caregivers. Last Updated December 1, 2014. Retrieved April 28, 2015.