Sudden infant death syndrome is pretty much any parent's worst nightmare — but in order to try and reduce infant mortality in the United States, it's important to understand the conditions that surround SIDS, and researchers have been steadily studying the syndrome for years now. While there are still many questions surrounding SIDS, researchers know that its incidence is higher among different communities in the country, and Native American communities suffering some of the highest rate of SIDS deaths a year. But just how many Native American babies die from SIDS a year, and why does that health disparity exist in the first place?
"Sudden infant death syndrome" is the term used to explain the tragic phenomenon in which a healthy baby dies while asleep, and unfortunately, researchers still aren't sure exactly why or how SIDS occurs. However, they do know that SIDS affects more black and Native American babies than it does their white, Hispanic, and Asian or Pacific Islander counterparts. And while infant mortality rates (and SIDS rates) decreased among most communities between 2005 and 2014, that drop was not seen in Native American communities.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of black and Native American infants who die of SIDS is twice as large as the number of white babies killed by the syndrome. Sudden, unexpected infant death (SUID) rates are highest among Native American populations, with a mortality rate of 190.5 deaths per 100,000 live births — and SIDS deaths account for nearly half (48 percent) of those unexpected deaths. So for every 100,000 Native American births, there are approximately 92 deaths due to SIDS.
According to Mic, the racial disparity the United States sees in sudden infant death syndrome rates reflects already-existing maternal health disparities. According to the March of Dimes, those health disparities also result in higher black and Native American preterm birth rates and total infant mortality rates.
Reproductive justice advocate Elizabeth Dawes Gay told Mic last year that the disparities weren't new. "It's really sad, but not entirely surprising because we have a social and health infrastructure that leaves select groups of people behind," she said. She continued:
I think there could be a lot more done to raise awareness and to push policymakers to take action. Women are dying, babies are dying. It's too important of an issue to ignore.
There are campaigns already in place to help disseminate training materials and information on SIDS into Native American communities to help raise awareness, but the United States will also need to focus specifically on increasing minorities' access to maternal and infant health care.
On the bright side, overall rates of infant mortality and SIDS in the United States have decreased in recent years. Hopefully that's a trend that will continue — for all communities in the United States.