We’ve all heard it: co-sleeping is the primary risk factor for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Every couple of years another study seems to come out saying the same thing. The May 2013 study from the British Medical Journal is being heralded as a landmark study in proving the dangers of co-sleeping. But have you ever stopped to ask yourself why the medical community is so sure about ways to prevent SIDS when they claim they don’t know what causes it? Turning a logical eye to SIDS research uncovers a number of inconsistencies about this mysterious medical phenomenon.
The diagnosis of SIDS is a floating target. Since the medical community has no known cause for SIDS, a diagnosis must be made by excluding other causes rather than looking for signs of a particular cause. The definition of a clinical case of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome is defined as the sudden death of an infant younger than 1 year that remains unexplained after a thorough investigation, which should include an autopsy, examination of the scene of death and review of clinical history. With such a broad clinical definition and no known cause, diagnosing SIDS can be highly subjective.
Classification for incidents of sudden unexplained death of infant (SUDI) have changed over the years and many of these deaths are now being classified as other unknown causes. In fact, evidence shows that many deaths previously classified as SIDS may be cases of accidental suffocation or strangulation. As the numbers of SIDS deaths have gone down, the number of infant deaths from accidental strangulation and suffocation have increased.
We don’t know how many incidents of SUDI are diagnosed as SIDS because the baby was sleeping with parents and how many incidents of SUDI are attributed to other unknown causes because the baby was in a crib. This could explain recent assertions that it is very rare any more to find a SIDS case in a baby that sleeps in a crib.
Co-sleeping in Western Culture
There is a strong bias against co-sleeping in Western cultures that has likely influenced existing medical literature. Despite the vehement assertions of American and European medical practitioners that co-sleeping is unsafe, humans have been doing it for thousands of years and survived. In his paper on SIDS research, professor James J. McKenna pointed out that if co-sleeping were truly as hazardous as medical authorities say, then none of us would be here because our ancestors would have died.
In Europe and North America co-sleeping fell out of favor due to social and cultural pressures rather than any actual health issues. Among impoverished families, infanticide was rampant. Many parents tried to avoid jail by claiming they had accidentally overlaid the baby in their sleep. This became so much of a problem that 17th century, England, Germany and France all passed legislation mandating jail time if a parent was found in bed with a child under two years of age. In fact, babies protest very loudly if their breathing is compromised. Only a parent who is intoxicated or otherwise unusually lacking in their ability to wake up would not notice a screaming baby next to them.
Moralists of this era were also concerned with the “sexual purity” of children and thought that getting children out of their parents’ bed would remove the temptation for incest. A growing philosophical movement that placed the spousal relationship in competition with that of the mother and child also contributed to the end of the family bed in Western society. So in America and Europe, doctors and scientists often have a pre-existing bias against co-sleeping when they go into research and this influences their conclusions.
The Co-sleeping Stigma
Because of the stigma attached to co-sleeping, adequate research comparing co-sleeping and separate sleeping infants and SIDS is difficult. Many parents sleep apart from their babies because they have been told it is safer and many who do co-sleep don’t “advertise” for fear of criticism from family, friends, doctors and even child protective services.
Between the stigma attached to co-sleeping and the massive amount of funds involved, it would be extremely difficult to find the 10,000 co-sleeping infants needed to compare with an equal sized group of infants who sleep apart from parents for a study to really get an accurate picture of the risks.
In Favor of Co-Sleeping
There is statistical and laboratory evidence that co-sleeping may prevent SIDS. McKenna found that when babies and mothers sleep together, they tend to match sleep patterns and even bring each other out of apneas (periods when breathing stops).
They also found that internationally, among cities where SIDS deaths are the lowest, co-sleeping rates are some of the highest. Among native peoples who practice co-sleeping there has not been an increased rate of SIDS observed. Historical evidence also presents problems with the idea that SIDS is related to co-sleeping. Early terms for SIDS included “crib death” and “cot death”, which imply that the baby died in a crib or infant sleeping cot. These terms would probably not have come into common usage if the typical case of SIDS was found in the parents’ bed.
Autopsies of SIDS babies have shown petechiae (small, red spots that are a symptom of bleeding beneath the skin) on parts of the lungs and heart with no difference in severity between babies who died face up, face down, or side-lying. The petechiae are a symptom of what doctors call central airway failure and are not consistent with airway obstruction as is the case with suffocation or asphyxiation. What the autopsies seem to be showing is that SIDS is not caused by the baby’s airway being blocked, but rather, the respiratory system shutting down from within and that it happens regardless of the baby’s sleeping position. This is yet another problem with most of the SIDS prevention guidelines which focus on keeping the baby’s airway free. Of course, by its very nature a death caused by suffocation or asphyxiation can not accurately be classified as SIDS because it has a known cause.
Vaccines Can’t Cause SIDS?
There is one condition that could cause Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and fits the clinical presentation very well. Encephalitis, especially encephalitis triggered by an autoimmune reaction, matches the description of SIDS.
Clinical presentation of encephalitis in infants:
- Seemingly mild cold and flu symptoms, especially in the early stages.
- Prolonged, crying that can’t be soothed. (Also frequently associated with pertussis vaccination.)
- Tonic-clonic (formerly known as “grand mal”) seizures with frothy saliva and blood at the mouth.
- Petechiae hemorrhages in severe cases.
- Excessive sleepiness that leads to coma and death.
- With autoimmune encephalitis, even after extensive testing is performed, often no cause is found.
Clinical presentation of SIDS:
- Many SIDS babies had seemingly minor cold/flu symptoms, lethargy, or irritability in the weeks preceding death.
- Infants who have died of SIDS often display a frothy, blood-tinged discharge from the nose or mouth at the time of discovery.
- Petechiae on the thymus, pleura, and epicardium.
- Baby was put down to sleep and found pulseless and apneic (stopped breathing during sleep, failed to arouse from sleep).
- After thorough examination and autopsy, no cause of death is found.
According to the online Merck Home Manual, encephalitis is caused by bacterial and viral infections or autoimmune reactions triggered by infections or vaccine reactions. So we have a disease which is known to cause sudden death and is known to be caused by vaccine reactions. But if the medical community were to be honest about this with the public, many people would probably stop vaccinating their little babies.
But what about all that research that claims to prove that there is no link between SIDS and vaccination? Well, Randall Neustaedter has some great information in his book The Vaccine Guide about the financial incentives researchers were given to “find” no link between DTP and SIDS. However, we don’t need to even go to a third party source to find that researchers are given money from vaccine manufacturers.
Dr. James Cherry has been one of the most prominent voices declaring that his research shows that no relationship between vaccines and SIDS exists. But take a look at this article from Dr. Cherry on vaccine failure. A financial disclosure in the footnotes of the full text states that “Dr. Cherry has given talks in programs supported directly and through program grants by Sanofipasteur and GlaxoSmithKline. Dr. Cherry has consulted about pertussis vaccines with Sanofipateur and GlaxoSmithKline.” So we’re not getting independent research here, we’re getting research from the manufacturers who have a financial interest in making more vaccines. I don’t think it should comes as any surprise that this article about why the pertussis vaccine fails concludes by saying, “Clearly, additional investments and innovation in pertussis vaccine development are needed”. (In other words, if it’s not working, the manufacturers need more money and more job security to make it work.)
How about a court of law? Would a legal ruling that vaccines were responsible for a baby’s death or injury help you to believe that SIDS could at least sometimes be caused by vaccination? Well, there are 1,270 cases of injury and death related to SIDS that the US government has paid out on after courts ruled that the DTP vaccine was definitely responsible. That’s almost one quarter of the 3,856 vaccine injury and death claims that have been paid out as of December 2014.
Note: Some of the material in this post also appears in my ebook Science of Birth Course Section 11: Your New Baby. In addition to SIDS, this book has thorough, fact-based discussions of issues like co-sleeping and circumcision and even a comprehensive guide to your many cloth diapering options. Available at: https://gumroad.com/epidemicfacts