SIDS — it's a scary acronym that no parent wants to ever have personal experience with, but it's is so important for every parent to be aware of. Sudden infant death syndrome is described by the Mayo Clinic as, "the unexplained death, usually during sleep, of a seemingly healthy baby less than a year old." And recent studies on SIDS and poverty show that the two are likely still connected, which is disappointing, but illuminating.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated that, "in 2015, there were about 3,700 sudden unexpected infant deaths (SUIDs) in the United States." That institute reported that, when it comes to SIDS specifically, about 1,600 infants died of SIDS that same year. The CDC also lists it as the leading cause of death among infants from 1 to 12 months old. The CDC reported that when it comes to getting accurate reporting and statistics on SIDS, things can get a little murky. The institute found that those who investigate SUIDs might report an infant's cause of death in various ways, and that they may not include enough information about the circumstances of the unexpected death. That makes getting statistics on SIDS a little more difficult.
What we do know is that the Journal of Pediatrics and Child Health reported back in 1995 that, "low-income groups have three times the rate of SIDS compared to those in higher income groups." And the link between poverty and SIDS has only been further substantiated by more recent research.
A study featured in an article in the Southern Medical Journal in November of 2011 found that there is a "significant association between poverty and SIDS at the metropolitan county level," among non-Hispanic black and non-Hispanic white populations. That correlation was discovered after looking at U.S. Census data from 1990 and 2000.
Most of the statistics we rely on for SIDS prevention that suggest a link between poverty and SIDS are actually pretty old — like, from the 1990s old (as much as I hate to admit the '90s were all that long ago). But by looking at potential risk factors that are currently reported by several organizations, institutes, articles, and other resources, a connection can still be uncovered.
KidsHealth.org lists potential risk factors for SIDS, including smoking, drinking, or drug use during pregnancy, poor prenatal care, prematurity or low weight at birth, a mother younger than 20 years old, tobacco smoke exposure after birth, overheating from excessive sleepwear or bedding, and finally, stomach sleeping.
Let's break some of those down. For example, if someone is in a lower-income bracket, they might be more likely to deal with healthcare accessibility issues, which could lead to things like poor prenatal care or a lack of information about substance use and abuse or even something like proper nutrition during pregnancy. That could lead to a premature birth or low-birth weights in some babies. Extrapolating based on recent information provided by Kids Health can indicate more clear connections between SIDS and poverty.
MedlinePlus, a National Institutes of Health's website produced by the National Library of Medicine, specifically lists "living in poverty situations" as a factor that increases the risk for SIDS. That suggests that the institute believes the connection between low-income/impoverished families and the rate of SIDS is still present today.
And CBS News reported in 2014, Rosemary Horne, a SIDS specialist and deputy director of the Ritchie Center at Monash Medical Center's MIMR-PHI Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne, Australia, said more research is absolutely needed to learn more about and to combat SIDS:
More studies need to be done to identify why parents are ignoring safe sleeping advice. ... Is it because of poverty and they simply have no safe place for their baby to sleep, or is it because they are receiving incorrect advice from their parents, family members or medical professionals?
Finding ways to reduce the risk of SIDS and the number of babies and families impacted by such a tragic event is clearly still vitally important. And there are lots of organizations trying to change the numbers and help families — particularly low-income families — to be more aware of the risks and more proactive in preventing SIDS for their babies. The link between SIDS and poverty — and updated statistics on that specific connection — needs to continue to be explored.