Jeremy Deutsch : July 06, 2011
It’s every new parent’s worst nightmare — a child falls asleep for the night and never wakes up.
There’s no reason, no cause and no one to blame.
Though sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is very rare, there has been an alarming spike in the number of cases in the province.
According to the B.C. Coroners Service child death review unit, there were 21 sudden infant deaths in the first half of 2011, compared to 16 in all of 2010.
That includes one case in the Interior region.
The spike has prompted the coroners service to urge parents to educate themselves on safe sleep practices in an effort to minimize the risk of SIDS.
Sudden infant deaths occur when a previously healthy baby dies in sleep-related circumstances and no cause of death is found in an autopsy.
“The challenge is that we don’t really know why these babies die,” B.C. chief coroner Lisa Lapointe told KTW.
Some factors that increase the risk of SIDS include placing a baby on his or her stomach or side, having babies sleep on soft surfaces, having soft objects in the sleep environment, having a baby share a bed with an adult and exposing a baby to cigarette smoke during and after pregnancy.
The chief coroner noted in 11 of the 21 cases, the baby was sleeping in an adult bed and, in 10 cases, they were sharing a bed with an adult
Half of the adults sharing a bed with a baby had consumed alcohol prior to the death.
“That’s a huge risk factor,” said Lapointe, adding that, in some cases , none of the risk factors were evident and the baby still died.
The coroner recommends babies sleep in a separate crib with a firm mattress and fitted sheet.
She said toys and blankets should be kept away from the child’s face.
The coroners service will also be working with Ministry of Health officials, health-care workers and First Nations communities to share the information and provide information for parents.
Kamloops pediatrician said he’s not sure what to make of the sudden jump in SIDS cases, noting the rate has been cut in half in Canada in the last 20 years.
“In general, SIDS has gone from something you heard about not terribly uncommon to something now that’s quite rare,” he said, crediting a program to get parents to place their babies on their back when they sleep as the reason for the drop in SIDS cases.
Smith also noted B.C. has a traditionally lower rate of SIDS than the rest of the country, possibly in part from a lower smoking rate.
As a pediatrician, Smith said he always explains the SIDS risk factors to parents, but views the B.C. Coroners Service’s warning as a good reminder.
The province’s chief coroner knows how devastating a sudden infant death can be, as she has attended several cases as a coroner in the field.
“As a parent, you do everything you can to keep your child safe,” Lapointe said.
“To discover they they’ve died and there was nothing you could have done to prevent it — it’s just shocking.”