SIDS May Result from Spinal Injuries Sustained at Birth

“Stop staring at the baby. She’s okay, she’s just asleep.”

“Calm down. The doctor said she’s fine, everything looks normal”

“You don’t have to constantly hold her while she’s sleeping, just put her in the crib. She’ll be fine.”

As a new parent, how many times have you heard similar things from your friends, family or even your significant other? And how many times have you completely ignored them because you’re convinced something horrible may happen?

When you have a baby, your protective instincts immediately switch on, making it very easy to become crazily overprotective—or, at least, that’s how others may perceive you to be. However, this instinct may not be unjustified. In 2013, over 3,000 babies died of sudden infant death syndrome, making SIDS the top cause of infant mortality. But although the name suggests that the cause of death is sudden and doesn’t have a particular reason for occurring, new research shows that the syndrome may actually have several contributing factors besides environmental suffocation.

Previously, SIDS was thought to occur as a result of suffocation due to environmental factors that occurred while the child slept. If she was unable to lift or turn her head while asleep, obstructive forces such as blankets, pillows, articles of clothing, or even the mattress itself could obstruct her airways, causing suffocation. Another theory suggests that if the child is sleeping on her back, saliva or spit up could clog the throat, causing the child to choke.

However, a new study has found that spinal cord trauma may also be linked to SIDS. Autopsies found spinal abnormalities extremely common amongst SIDS and crib death victims. These abnormalities show blood in the spinal cord, most likely resulting from obstetric trauma during birth.

Although spinal cord trauma may easily be missed during birth, over-manipulation of the child’s head and neck during the procedure can result in tearing of the spinal cord. This tear can cause blood to pool in the spinal cord for up to a year before affecting the child’s brain functions, causing the child to become unconscious (suggesting why SIDS generally occurs while the child is asleep) and preventing the brain from communicating with the body to continue breathing, resulting in “sudden” death. Without intensive procedures to identify if a spinal tear has occurred, the damage generally goes unnoticed until it is too late.

The evidence suggesting a possible link between SIDS and spinal cord abnormalities is more than coincidental and studies are ongoing to determine different classifications for SIDS, differentiating between birth-related SIDS and environmentally related infant suffocation.

Until more evidence and research can help identify the mysteries of sudden infant death syndrome and crib death, being aware of your baby’s surroundings isn’t a bad thing. Make sure that her sleeping environment is free from debris and that her mattress isn’t too fluffy or big; keeping a close eye on her will limit the possibilities of suffocation. You should also speak with your pediatrician about the best sleeping positions for her safety, as well as discuss if there was a possibility that she could have sustained a spinal abnormality when she was born. Hopefully, this will help ease your mind and allow you to stop worrying and actually enjoy the peace and quiet of her nap times.

The lawyers here at Shevlin Smith hope you found this article helpful and we welcome you to contact us if you have any questions or concerns about the possibility of birth-related SIDS.