Infant death linked to child-rearing habits

The Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is more frequent among children in the West than in Asia. Researchers say a difference in child-care practices may be the cause.

 
Published: Friday 30 April 1993

Infant who are left to sleep a WESTERN infants are more likely to become victims of so-called crib deaths because they are far more frequently left alone to sleep than Asian children, a British study shows.

Crib deaths -- known formally as sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) -- is a phenomenon involving the unexpected and unexplained death of an apparently healthy baby while it is asleep. It is the single most important cause of death in the UK of infants in their first year.

As SIDS is still poorly understood, a team from the University of Wales College of Medicine in Cardiff and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine undertook a study comparing infant care practices among Bangladeshi and Welsh families. They found the child-rearing attitudes of the two groups are quite different and this may have direct bearing on why SIDS deaths among the Welsh are almost twice the rate for Bangladeshi infants (British Medical Journal, Vol 306, No 6869).

The study showed Bangladeshis live in large extended families whose members are all involved in child-rearing. Hence, a Bangladeshi baby is rarely left alone to play or sleep. Bangladeshi babies generally sleep close to some family members, whether during night or day.

On the other hand, child care in Welsh families was the responsibility of one or both parents, who could expect only occasional help from other family members. Because Welsh lifestyles attach considerable importance to parents enjoying privacy and time away from their child, these infants usually sleep in their parents' bed for the first two or three months and are then encouraged to sleep alone. It is a revealing coincidence that SIDS deaths occur most frequently in the 9-12 months age group.

The researchers note infants sleeping alone are deprived of such external sensory stimulation as rocking, noise and touch, associated with people who are nearby, and which help to stabilise breathing. Their study suggests that SIDS deaths occur because of failure of respiratory control in infants when they are at a vulnerable stage in their development, leading to sudden death.

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