Jan 5, 2013.
Data on the number of infant deaths caused by unsafe sleeping conditions have been historically hard to collect.
Part of the issue lies in the classification of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that each year, more than 4,500 babies die of an unknown cause, and half of these deaths are due to SIDS. During the 90s, however, rates of SIDS started to go down, but overall infant mortality numbers haven’t changed.
Autopsies decide which deaths are SIDS and which aren’t, said Dr. Abraham Bergman, a professor emeritus in pediatrics at the University of Washington, which skews national data.
Research has shown that cases previously called SIDS are now being reported as accidental suffocation or undetermined cause, which could mean that unsafe sleep numbers are actually higher than they appear.
Dr. Douglas Evans of Evans Pediatrics said medicine is getting better at sorting out what causes infant death. A recent report in the American Academy of Pediatrics journal, Pediatrics, found that 70 percent of sudden infant death had an underlying cause.
“Those are not strictly SIDS death, those have a reason, but if you place a child in an unsafe position and they have one of those other risk factors, it’s almost a perfect storm,” Dr. Evans said.
Missouri keeps track of its child deaths through the Missouri Child Fatality Review Program, which records every child death under age 17. In 2010, it reported 61 babies died of suffocation and 11 died of SIDS. Of the SIDS cases, two were found sleeping on their stomach or side. In five cases, the baby’s sleeping position was unknown. Of the 11 cases, seven were not sleeping in a firm mattress in a crib.
Jennifer Gordon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: @SJNPGordon.