That is one of conclusion of a recent Scripps Howard News Service study of 40,000 infant fatalities during a 15-year period. The study, reviewed last week by the Robeson County Board of Health, also concludes that some states routinely label all sudden infant fatalities as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or “death by unknown causes.”
Few states and local governments have adopted the protocol written by the Center for Disease Control to standardize and improve how infant fatalities are investigated. According to the report, states with strong programs for reviewing findings made by local coroners are discovering more infant homicides and accidental asphyxiation. The study also found that a small but growing number of coroners who adhere to the most thorough investigation protocols are discovering that most sudden infant deaths are accidental asphyxiation.
“This study has brought a new light on SIDS,” said Beth Rowell, Robeson County’s SIDS counselor and chairman of the local Child Fatality Review Team. “It shows that more detailed investigations into sudden infant fatalities are revealing that the deaths are more likely due to suffocation than SIDS.”
SIDS is listed as the cause of the death of any infant under 1 year old whose death cannot be otherwise explained following an investigation that includes a complete autopsy, examination of the death scene and a review of clinical history.
The discovery that a large number of sudden infant deaths are from suffocation — and not SIDS— is often difficult for parents to face, Rowell said. Many medical examiners spare the feelings of parents by diagnosing the death as being SIDS.
“But we need to call it what it is,” Rowell said. “As one doctor quoted in the study said, ‘The worst truth is better than the sweetest lie.’”
Rowell said that Robeson County experiences between four and six infant deaths each year that are diagnosed as SIDS.
“I know that doesn’t sound like a lot, but I would love to see all SIDS deaths gone,” she said.
Rowell said that an effort has begun to educate people that babies should sleep alone.
“Parents and grandparents should not sleep in the same bed with the baby,” Rowell said. “The baby doesn’t need a pillow, extra covers, and all the other pretty things.
“We need to educate loudly. Parents and grandparents who have raised other children and had nothing bad happen are the hardest to convince ... .”
Rowell said that letters are being sent to area pediatricians, emergency first responders, caregivers and others requesting their assistance in getting the word out that sudden infant fatalities can be greatly reduced by having babies sleep alone and on heir back.
Rowell also hopes to establish a program in Robeson County similar to one that began in Pittsburgh that provides free cribs to poor families.