The thought of losing a child to sudden infant death syndrome, in which a healthy baby dies in their sleep without explanation, is one of parents' biggest nightmares. The rate of SIDS deaths in the United States has been dropping steadily since 1994, according to the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, but compared to some European countries, the United States' rates are still rather high. Will SIDS rates increase in the future, though, or continue to follow their downward trend in the next few years?
As awareness about SIDS increases across the country, it seems unlikely that SIDS rates will rise again soon. In fact, in the past 10 years, the United States has seen infant mortality rates drop by 15 percent, with SIDS rates declining by 29 percent, according to a 2017 analysis by the National Center for Health Statistics. But researchers also found that those declines came with a disparity in health outcomes: African-American and Native American communities continue to suffer from a higher rate of infant deaths than the rest of the American population does.
"While this report shows overall improvement to infant mortality rates, women of color and their children continue to bear a disproportionate burden," Paul Jarris, chief medical officer at the March of Dimes, told NBC in March. "This report highlights the need to strengthen programs that serve low income and at-risk communities, especially those with the highest infant mortality rates."
National campaigns, such as the NICHD's Safe to Sleep campaign, are already working to lower rates of SIDS in at-risk communities, and according to Time, governmental efforts to increase access to prenatal care need to go on if the United States wants to see that downward trend in SIDS continue. Receiving little or no prenatal care remains a risk factor for SIDS, so women of all income levels need access to free or affordable prenatal care. If the United States wants to keep lowering its SIDS rates, ensuring that prenatal care in insurance coverage will likely be an important way to combat infant mortality and SIDS.
The recent introduction of Finnish-style baby boxes to certain states — including hospitals in New Jersey, Texas, Ohio, and Philadelphia — could also help lower American rates of SIDS in the near future. The free boxes include a foam mattress and baby supplies, and, more importantly, help encourage safe sleeping practices for newborns.
Increasing parents' paid family leave would also be a way to help ensure better health outcomes for infants. Paid family leave is linked to higher rates of breastfeeding, according to BreastfeedLA, and studies have shown that breastfeeding can reduce the risk of SIDS by half.
If the United States continues to push family-friendly practices — like paid family leave, low-income access to prenatal care, and baby box initiatives — it seems highly unlikely that the country's SIDS rate will go back up. In fact, if Americans push for those family-friendly policies across the country, we may even see SIDS rate continue to sink even lower.