Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS, is scary. It can happen to any infant, and have a major impact on any parent, during their child's first year of life. In 2015 there were 1,600 deaths due to SIDS in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — and this number can be broken down into demographics. There are a lot of questions surrounding SIDS — and surely, someone out there wants to know why Asian babies are least likely to die of SIDS than any other race or ethnicity.
Here's the numbers — according to the CDC, SIDS rates are lowest among Asian and Pacific Islander infants, with a rate of 34.7 for every 100,000 live births. This is compared to American Indian and Alaska Native infants, which are most likely to die of SIDS, with a rate of 190.5 for every 100,000 live births. The contrast is shocking — which might have people asking what are Asian parents doing differently? The answer to that question, like SIDS itself, is much of a mystery.
There unfortunately, is no direct answer to why Asian babies are least likely to die of SIDS. But according to Childrearing and Infant Care: A Cross-cultural Perspective by Pranee Liamputtong, it could all boil down to cultural differences — such as lifestyles, beliefs, and practices — as Asian infants are cared for in a "culturally rich sensory environment" compared to others.
In 2010, the CDC reported that Japan had one of the lowest infant mortality rates, according to CBS News, with many factors contributing to this. According to Evolutionary Parenting, Japan has significant lower rates of maternal smoking and alcohol consumption — and research has shown that maternal smoking has a direct relation to SIDS. Factors like these could have a direct influence on the lowered SIDS rate for Asian children. This can be seen in a 2012 study conducted in the United Kingdom, which found that infants with South Asian parents (of Bangladeshi, Indian, and Pakistani descent) in the UK had a lower rate of SIDS over white British infants. At the end of the study, researchers were able to conclude that the South Asian parents that were observed were more likely to protect their infants from major SIDS risks such as exposure to maternal smoking and alcohol consumption, and less likely to let their infant sleep in a room alone.
Sleeping habits could also contribute to why Asian babies are least likely to die of SIDS. While it is reported that bed sharing is unsafe and could lead to SIDS, according to Parenting, Asian cultures that traditionally share sleep (where babies sleep in the same room or bed as their parents) have low infant mortality rates. In fact, according to Dr. William Sears, in these countries, safe co-sleeping lowers the risk of SIDS — yes, you read that right.
This is because, according to Health 24, some believe that parent-infant contact throughout the night helps infants "overcome the deficits that result in SIDS." Sleeping habits vary by culture, even throughout the very diverse continent of Asia. For example, a 2014 study conducted by the Korean Society of Sleep Medicine found that parents in Korea were likely to sleep with their children on the floor — and that this did not carry the same SIDS risk level as bed sharing. It is important to note that co-sleeping is not the same as bed sharing.
The way parents put their children to sleep is learned behavior, passed down from their parents or cultures. Asian families are no different — and their cultural behavior could account for why Asian babies are the least likely to die of SIDS.