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What Is SIDS?

How To Deal With Sudden Infant Death Syndrome

Sudden infant death syndrome is one of the most challenging things a parent can experience. It's hard to know how to deal with this situation and expect.  You're not alone in your grief, but you must find ways to cope with your loss so you don't get stuck in sadness and frustration.

We've compiled some resources here that might help you better understand sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and find ways to cope with your grief while helping others around you who are also grieving for their lost loved ones.

What Is SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome??

Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is the sudden death of an infant under one-year-old that cannot be explained by any previously known medical conditions or events. SIDS is also called crib death because most deaths are in infants who are asleep in their cribs at the time.

What Are The Possible Causes of SIDS?

The cause of SIDS is not known. There are several theories, but no one theory has been proven. Most experts now believe that SIDS may result from interactions among multiple risk factors, sometimes including unknown causes

Some environmental factors that contribute to SIDS can consist of:

  • inconsistent prenatal care
  • maternal smoking during pregnancy
  • exposure to environmental tobacco smoke
  • overheating; soft bedding in the crib
  • loose, fluffy bedding
  • an immature central nervous system (CNS), and
  • sleeping on the stomach

Are There Warning Signs For Sids?

For SIDS, warning signs include the child being excessively sleepy during the day or unusually irritable when woken up. The baby may not breathe normally while sleeping and can change breathing patterns at night.

Other symptoms of SIDS are:

  • being limp
  • having no response to stimuli
  • showing increased muscle tone, called "opisthotonus."
  • have a high-pitched cry, and
  • have a bluish color to the skin due to lack of oxygen.

What Can Make A Child Vulnerable To SIDS?

There are many risk factors to consider that can make a child vulnerable to SIDS. Some of these can be preventable while others cannot. Risk factors that are increased for SIDS include but are not limited to the following:

THE WAY THEY SLEEP

Babies used to sleeping on their backs but are then put down to sleep on their stomachs may be at increased risk for SIDS. Infants who sleep on their stomachs are at higher risk than those who sleep on their backs. The threat from sleeping on the stomach is reduced if a baby sleeps in a bare crib without any soft objects or loose bedding.

THE AGE OF YOUR CHILD

SIDS risk increases significantly during the second and third months of life. The peak occurs at 2 to 3 months of age when most babies start sleeping through the night.

PHYSICAL FACTORS

Several physical factors can increase SIDS risk. Here are some factors to be aware of.

Low Birth Weight

Low birth weight can be a risk factor for SIDS because these infants may not be as developed as other infants and may not regulate their body temperature or breathing. They are also more likely to experience health problems leading to SIDS.

Prematurity

Premature infants can have difficulty maintaining their body temperature. Anemic or having a heart murmur, which may not be expected in preterm infants, can also increase SIDS risk.

Brain Defects

Brain defects that are not diagnosed before or after birth can lead to SIDS. In addition, increased SIDS risk is seen in infants who have had head injuries, especially if there was bleeding, swelling of the brain, or other neurological symptoms which may have happened during birth.

Respiratory Infection

Even though respiratory infections are common in infants, they may make it more challenging to arouse from sleep. As a result, a respiratory infection can increase SIDS risk.

Allergies & Asthma

Babies with allergies or asthma may have more respiratory problems than other babies. These respiratory problems can lead to SIDS.

SECONDHAND SMOKE

Infants exposed to tobacco smoke are more likely to die of SIDS, and this is because nicotine can reduce the amount of oxygen in the body. Smoking during pregnancy has been linked with an increased risk for SIDS. If you are pregnant, you shouldn't smoke.

But in addition to not smoking, it is essential not to have anyone smoke in the same room as your baby.

SEX/AGE/RACE

SIDS is more common in males. The rate of SIDS is highest during the winter months, most likely because infants are in cold rooms and may cause them to work harder to breathe needlessly. Also, SIDS rates among black babies are twice as high as those among white babies.  

 

Is There A Way To Help Prevent SIDS?

There are several things you can do to help prevent SIDS. There is never any guarantee however small steps may go a long way in preventing SIDS.

Breastfeeding is recommended for SIDS prevention. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends breastfeeding as the best way to feed your baby, and it can reduce SIDS risk by up to 50%. For more information, talk with your doctor about how you can use breastfeeding to prevent SIDS. If you cannot breastfeed for some reason, you can still help reduce the risk of SIDS for your baby by formula feeding.

Sleeping position is also essential. The AAP recommends that babies sleep on their backs until one year old. Many doctors recommend that infants sleep in the same room with their parents but on a different surface, such as a crib or bassinet, to reduce SIDS risk.

Bed-sharing is not recommended because it can increase the chances of an infant suffocating. With bed-sharing, the baby may become covered by bedding, be too close to pillows, or get wedged between the mattress, headboard, or other furniture.

As for sleep surfaces, research has shown that babies who sleep on a firm surface (such as a crib mattress covered with a fitted sheet) are at less risk for SIDS than those who share the bed or sleep on other surfaces. If you do not plan to use your baby's bassinet, make sure that it fits the safety standards set by the AAP.

Keep soft objects or loose bedding away from the infant's sleep area to prevent the baby from suffocating on these items. Keep pillows, quilts, and comforters out of cribs and bassinets.

You can tuck your baby's blanket or other fabric items securely around the crib mattress so that the baby cannot pull them over their face. Also, avoid puffy, fluffy bedding and sleep positioners.

Don't let your baby overheat during sleep. Dress infants in lightweight clothing and do not cover their heads or faces while sleeping. Be careful not to bundle them too much while they sleep and keep the room at a comfortable temperature for an adult.

Remember, SIDS can happen to anyone. However, you can take steps to help reduce SIDS risk.

How To Cope With The Loss Of A Baby To SIDS

If you have recently experienced the loss of a baby to SIDS, you are not alone. One in every 200 babies will die of SIDS, and thousands more are affected by it each year. The death of a baby is never easy, but many things can help you cope with your loss.

Many parents find it helpful to talk to others who have experienced the same thing, and sharing helps parents feel less isolated and cope with their grief. Even though it may still be painful, talking about the baby's death is probably better than trying to keep silent about it.

Talking with your doctor can also help you cope with your grief. Your pediatrician or family doctor should be able to refer you to other people who have been through the same thing as you have. 

In most communities, support groups are available to help parents deal with their losses. If this is not an option for you, your doctor may recommend other places to provide support.

Some parents find it helpful to write a letter or record a video about their baby. Parents say they feel better knowing that they have expressed their feelings about the baby's death, making it easier to move on with their lives.

Finally, parents find comfort in working toward preventing SIDS. Parents of children who die of SIDS are often more aware of the dangers associated with SIDS, and they may also become advocates for others at risk for SIDS.

GIVE YOURSELF TIME TO GRIEVE

Make sure you take care of yourself and your other children during this difficult time. Take good care of yourself. It can be tough to cope with a baby's death, but paying attention to your health and well-being is essential.

Make plans for breaks from any demanding responsibilities at home or work, and be ready to make changes in your schedule to take care of yourself. It can also be helpful to talk with a counselor, join a support group for parents, or seek out other sources of support that may help you cope with your loss.

GET HELP/SUPPORT

Remember that you are not alone. If you have lost a baby to SIDS, please know that other people have had the same experience as you have. There are several ways to get help and support during this time. For example, you can get help and support from the following:

Through A Therapist/Counselor

A therapist or counselor trained to help those who have experienced loss is a great resource. Search for counselors who have been trained specifically to help those who have experienced the loss of a child. A therapist or counselor can be a beneficial resource as you try to cope with your grief and find ways to move forward in your life after SIDS.

Through A Support Group

Support groups for those who have lost a child can provide practical advice and emotional support. These groups can meet in person or online, and they may be a good resource if you do not know anybody else who has experienced this loss.

Through Friends & Family

Family and friends are also important sources of support. They can offer emotional comfort, advice on practical issues, or both. Friends and family members who have experienced loss will understand what you are going through better than anyone else.

Through Faith Communities

You may find it helpful to turn to your faith community for guidance. Seek out like-minded people who can share their experiences and give you advice on how they dealt with the loss of a baby. Remember, you are not alone.

TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF

You may find that it is hard to cope with a baby's death, but it's also essential to take care of your health and wellness. Make plans for breaks from any demanding responsibilities at home or work, and be ready to make changes in your schedule so you can take care of yourself. It can also be helpful to:

Eat Healthy Meals

You may not be in the mood to eat but nourishing your body with healthy meals is essential. Eating well will help you stay fit and better handle stress.

Get Enough Sleep

Not getting enough sleep can leave you feeling exhausted, cranky, and more stressed. Many people also experience sleeping problems after a baby dies. If this happens to you, talk to your doctor about what might be causing the pain and how to treat it.

Get Some Exercise

Being active can help you feel better, lessen stress, improve your mood, and sleep more soundly at night. Try aiming for 30 to 60 minutes of exercise per day in whatever way works best for you—it can be a walk around the block or enrolling in an aerobics class. It's essential to make sure you take care of yourself during this challenging time.

Ask For Help If You Need It

Don't try to handle everything on your own. Ask for help if you need it, whether you are looking for someone to take over your responsibilities at home, provide emotional support, or both. It's okay to ask for help with chores or other demands that may be hard for you to manage right now.

Remember that it takes time to heal from a baby's death. It can take a long time before you feel like your life is back to normal, but the pain doesn't have to last forever. You may experience many different emotions as you come to terms with what has happened, and that's perfectly normal.

But as time passes, your memories of your baby will become a source of comfort and joy instead of pain. Take things one step at a time and lean on people who love you for support.

How To Help Children Cope With The Loss Of A Sibling To SIDS

Children who have lost a brother or sister to SIDS may feel somehow responsible for the death. They may also be angry with themselves or others, afraid that something terrible will happen to them too, and feel guilty (for example, thinking that maybe their sibling would still be alive if only they had done something differently).

It is essential to be honest with children about what happened, talk honestly with them, and avoid discussing the baby's death. It also helps to reassure children that they are safe and happy now.

DEPENDING ON THEIR DEVELOPMENTAL STAGE, HELP THEM TO UNDERSTAND THE DEATH

For very young children, it may be challenging to understand what happened. But they may sense that something is wrong. Try holding them close and playing with their favorite toys. You can also read books about babies or heaven (if you believe in these concepts). 

For older children and teens, you may want to encourage them to talk about their feelings and help them think through some of the questions they may have. It is also an excellent idea to let them know that it's okay to feel angry, sad, or confused, even if those emotions seem complicated for adults to cope with.

LET THEM ASK QUESTIONS & BE A GOOD LISTENER

It's essential to be understanding and patient with the child. Answer questions simply, honestly, and directly. Explain what happened in simple terms appropriate for their age, but don't try to minimize the significance of the baby's death or make promises about their future health.

Pay attention to how they are feeling and coping. If they seem especially low or anxious, or their questions don't change over time, they may need more help. See a doctor and ask for a referral to a therapist who has experience working with bereaved children and teens.

HELP YOUR CHILD FIND WAYS TO REMEMBER YOUR BABY

Give your child the chance to participate in special events. Schedule a visit to the cemetery, bring photos that you enjoy seeing, or find other ways for your kids to honor their brother or sister who has died.

Since young children are more concrete in their thinking, it may be beneficial to spend time with other babies and children to help them remember their siblings.

DON'T TRY TO YOUR CHILD TO "MOVE ON"

Parents sometimes feel the need to protect their children from feeling sad, but this may make it harder for your child to work through their feelings about losing a brother or sister. Don't underestimate how much your children can handle.

DON'T TRY TO REPLACE THE BABY THAT DIED

Parents are often tempted to buy new clothes or plan a big family outing to cheer up their remaining children when a baby dies. This can be upsetting because it's another reminder of what they have lost.

Create special memories by doing things that your other children enjoy and give them the chance to spend time alone with you.

BE THERE FOR THEM WHEN THEY CRY, FEEL LOST OR LONELY

Give them a caring and loving environment to work through their feelings. Let your children express their anger, sadness, or guilt as long as the emotions are 'age-appropriate.

For example, if a young child says, 'I wish you had never given birth to me, it's essential to understand that the child is looking for help in understanding why their brother or sister is no longer around. Allow the child to express how they feel and talk about their feelings and grief, but don't force them to discuss it.

HELP THEM TO FIND WAYS TO EXPRESS THEIR GRIEF OR SADNESS

Give them appropriate outlets for their emotions. Encourage activities that may help them positively express these feelings but allow flexibility. For example, if your child says they want to quit piano lessons because it reminds them of their brother or sister, respect the choice even though you know how much your child loved playing the piano before.

Let them know that grieving is a normal part of life, and they will have many opportunities to process their feelings. Your child's grief may be intense now, but it will become less so as time goes on.

As your children grow older, they may want more privacy or distance as they work through their sadness and begin to form their memories of their baby brother or sister. As children get older, they may find it harder to talk about the baby who died, even when they still think about them often.

Parents need to know that siblings cope differently, and there isn't one right way to handle SIDS loss. Some children may seem to be doing well, even though they are working through their feelings in private. Others may want to talk about the loss with friends or adults who are not closely related to them.

UNDERSTAND THAT EACH CHILD GRIEVES DIFFERENTLY AND FOR DIFFERENT LENGTHS OF TIME

It is essential for parents to know that grieving can take time, and there isn't any set timeline for having all your child's questions answered. Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is a devastating tragedy that leaves parents with many questions and little time to heal.

Although parents may feel like they don't want to put their children through the pain of talking about SIDS, it is suitable for your child to understand what happened and see how you are coping.

Parents need to know that siblings cope differently, and there isn't one right way to handle SIDS loss. Some children may seem to be doing well, even though they are working through their feelings in private. Others may want to talk about the loss with friends or adults who are not closely related to them.

IF THEY WANT TO REMEMBER THEIR SIBLING, HELP THEM MAKE A SCRAPBOOK

Create a scrapbook as a unique way to remember and celebrate your child's life. If you feel up to it, try to include pictures and other memories that your children and their other parent want. Photos can also help with closure after the loss.

If your child is very young, you may find that a memory box or scrapbook with pictures and items that belonged to the baby will help them feel connected to their brother or sister. Older children may want something more specific – perhaps a card from their sibling's first day of pre-school, a toy car from his collection, or a drawing.

Allow your children to participate in the memorial service or funeral if they feel up to it, although you may choose not to take them if they are too young or would be upset by the event. This will help them see that other people care about their siblings and can be helpful in their grieving process.

HAVE A PHOTO ENGRAVED PENDANT OR KEEPSAKE MADE OF THE CHILD WITH THEIR SIBLING ALWAYS TO FEEL THEIR BROTHER OR SISTER IS WITH THEM

A great way to help your children feel connected to a sibling they have lost is to have a photo engraved pendant or keepsake made of the child with their sibling. The charm or keepsake will help them feel connected to their brother or sister and carry a memory of them with them wherever they go.

You can use photos or even footprints or handprints. You can find several different options for keepsakes and pendants that will be appropriate for your children like this one.

LET THE SIBLING BRING FLOWERS TO THE GRAVESITE

If there is a gravesite for the deceased child, let the sibling take flowers or decorate the spot when they want to visit. Siblings can grieve in different ways, so if your son or daughter wants to make sure that their brother's or sister's resting place is decorated with toys and other items, then let them have this particular time with their sibling.

It is also helpful to remember SIDS loss anniversaries, such as the child's birthday or death date or your due date if you are expecting another child. You can commemorate this day by having a family dinner and doing something enjoyable like going out to eat at your child's favorite restaurant.

HAVE A FINGERPRINT PENDANT MADE FOR THE SIBLINGS

You may also want to have a fingerprint pendant like this one made for the other siblings so that they each have their remembrance of their brother or sister.

Siblings of children who have passed away often feel guilty at being alive, which may help them know that they are loved and still meant to be born. Let your other children create the pendant with your help.

There are many other ways to celebrate your child's spirit, such as planting a tree, holding memorials where the children can meet others who also have lost siblings, or creating memory books that you share only with other family members.

You can explore memories that your baby loved and what activities they enjoyed to make a unique way to celebrate their memory. The pendant or keepsake will help them feel connected and carry a memory of them wherever they go.

How Can I Help A Family Member Or Friend Who Has Lost A Baby To SIDS?

When a family member or friend has lost a child to SIDS, it can be difficult for those who have not been through this kind of loss. Try to take cues from the bereaved parents about whether they would like help or support and how you can be most helpful.

ACKNOWLEDGE THAT THE CHILD'S LIFE WAS MEANINGFUL

One of the most important things you can do is acknowledge the child's life, and death was a loss. Acknowledge how hard it must be for these parents and let them know you think about them.

HELP THE PARENT'S CREATE A MEMORY BOOK FOR THE CHILD

A great way to help is to help the parents create a memory book of their child's life. This is especially helpful for younger siblings who never met their brother or sister. You can work with the family to create a book that will include photos, memories, and other keepsakes.

OFFER TO JUST SIT WITH THEM

Just offering to be there sometimes is enough. You do not have to say anything, just be present. Sometimes people simply need someone to talk to about their loss, and you can listen without having any answers.

DO SOMETHING SPECIAL WITH THEM

Another way to help would be doing something special together. Parents who have lost a child may enjoy planting a tree or creating a memorial site so that they have somewhere to go to remember their child.

HELP TO NOTIFY FRIENDS & FAMILY OF THE LOSS

Another helpful activity would be to help notify other friends and family of the loss. You can let them know that you are thinking about them or create a Facebook group for those who want to share memories or photos of their child. Whatever you do, just make sure that it is something that the parents are comfortable with.

OFFER TO HELP WITH FUNERAL PLANNING & OTHER TASKS

Funeral planning is complex for a loved one; however, when it is a sudden death of an infant, it can be that much more difficult. You can help by offering to help with the funeral planning and other tasks that need to be tended to for this part. Ask the parents what they need help with and contribute to making phone calls, doing research, or helping in any way you can to ease their burden.

OFFER TO RUN ERRANDS FOR THEM

Parents who have lost a child are consumed with thoughts of that child. Offering to run errands can be busy work for the bereaved parents, but it will help them out and allow you to spend some time with them outside of their home, which is sometimes tricky.

OFFER TO BABYSIT OTHER CHILDREN OR PETS

Offering to watch other siblings or pets while the parents get some time away can be helpful. Parents often feel guilty for leaving their surviving children, but they also need breaks, and spending time alone with one child is not healthy. Offering to volunteer your time to help them out like this will let you spend quality time with the family without disregarding the needs of other children.

OFFER TO HELP CLEAN, MAKE MEALS & SCHEDULE APPOINTMENTS

Another way to help is to clean the house, make meals, and schedule appointments for the family. Taking on some of these tasks gives them one less thing to worry about during this challenging time.

SIDS Frequently Asked Questions

What is the leading cause of SIDS?

Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is an infant's sudden and unexplained death younger than one-year-old. SIDS is the leading cause of death in infants from 1 month to 1 year old. Although the cause of SIDS is unknown, it appears that SIDS may occur when an infant's nervous system fails to regulate heart rate, breathing, and body temperature properly.

Can a child of any age die of SIDS?

SIDS is the most common in infants between 1 month and one year of age.

Can a baby survive SIDS?

Since SIDS isn't diagnosed until after an infant has died, you cannot identify and stop it from happening. However, being educated on risk factors and ways to prevent SIDS is one of the best ways to protect your baby.

How do people cope with a SIDS death?

There are many ways to cope with SIDS death. Getting support from friends and family members is the best way for some people. For others, counseling can help them work through their grief. Every person grieves differently, so it's essential to find what works best for you.

Is there anything I can do to prevent SIDS?

You can do many things to help prevent your baby from dying of SIDS. The most important is putting them on their back to sleep and keeping the crib free of anything that could suffocate a child. You should also have a well-fitting crib mattress, cover the side, avoid loose bedding and soft objects in the crib. If necessary, you should also make sure that there isn't a gap between the mattress and the side of the crib because an infant could get stuck in it.

Where can I find a bereavement support group for losing a child to SIDS?

Any hospital, hospice, or local community center should have information on SIDS loss support groups in your area. A support group can be a beneficial way to cope with the death of an infant, and you may find that talking to other people going through the same thing will help you feel less alone and more supported during this difficult time.

What resources are available to help parents who lost their baby to SIDS?

There are many resources available for parents who have experienced the death of their baby to SIDS. Bereavement support groups, counseling, and other group activities are good ways for bereaved parents to connect with people going through similar experiences. There are also books written by parents who have lost children to SIDS that you might find helpful in coping with your loss.

What do I say to someone who has lost a baby to SIDS?

It's always best to just listen when someone is talking about the loss of a child. It may feel unnatural or uncomfortable, but most parents want you to just be there for them. Just say that you are sorry for their loss and let them talk about how they feel if they're going to.

Don't try to cheer up the person by saying that they will get over it or that God has a plan. It's never appropriate to compare someone's loss with your own experiences and grief, but every experience is different and unique in its way.

Moving Forward After The Loss Of A Child To SIDS

Losing a child is one of the most challenging experiences a parent can go through. When that child dies suddenly and unexpectedly, it can be even harder to cope with the grief. If you have lost a baby to SIDS, many resources are available to help you through your grieving process.

There are bereavement support groups available in most areas and books written by other parents who have gone through a similar experience. You may also find it helpful to talk to someone who will just listen and allow you to express your feelings. Remember that every grieving process is different, so don't try to compare yours with anyone else's. Grief is a long and challenging journey, but it eventually gets better.

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February 21, 2022 by Jeri K. Augustus