One of the most harrowing events a parent can face is the death of their baby by SIDS - sudden infant death syndrome. A definition needs to be supplied for SIDS so we all have a basis of understanding: It is defined as a sudden, unexpected death of an apparently healthy infant under one year of age which remains unexplained after the performance of a complete postmortem investigation, including an autopsy, an examination of the scene of the death, and review of the child's medical history.
What does this have to do with homeopathy and the other alternative health professions? Everything. We must be prepared for such an eventuality in our profession, whether we're a homeopath, midwife, an oriental doctor of medicine, an acupuncturist, herbalist, Reikie healer, or flower essence practitioner. We all deal with real life situations. We are not immune to this occurring either within our own family, or to our clients/patients. Understanding SIDS, and knowing what to say and not to say, can help not only the parents through this very stressful time, but the alternative health care giver, as well.
It is in this spirit, that this article has been formulated and brought together; through education we can render even more healing rather than bumbling through it because we didn't know how to handle such an awkward, heart-rending event in one of our patient's lives.
Biggest Killer Of Children Under One Year Of Age
The number one cause of death for infants under one year of age, SIDS, is sometimes called "crib death." Over 6,000 families a year are struck. SIDS kills one in every five-hundred babies. That comes out to one baby dying of SIDS every hour of the day. After 30 years of research, scientists still cannot find one definite cause or causes for SIDS.
Another little known fact is that more children die of SIDS in one year than those who die of cancer, heart disease, pneumonia, child abuse, AIDS, cystic fibrosis and muscular dystrophy combined during their first 14 years.
SIDS Statistics From Arizona
Deaths: Arizona 50/year - U.S. 6,000/year
Age Range: 3 weeks to 12 months, most frequently 2 to 4 months
When: More frequently in winter months
Exhibits no external signs of injury.
Exhibits "natural" appearance of a deceased baby:
Lividity - settling of blood, pink-purple mottled marking on head and facial area if found face down . Frothy drainage from nose/mouth.
Body stiffness (rigor mortis) - takes place quickly in infants (about 3 hours).
Appears to be well-developed, though may be small for age.
Other siblings appear to be normal and healthy.
Risk Factors For SIDS
Prone (face down) sleeping position. (Child is found sleeping on its stomach).
Poor prenatal care.
Smoking during and/or after pregnancy.
Use of illegal drugs.
Maternal age less than 20 years.
Premature low birth weight infants.
Soft bedding, waterbeds.
What SIDS Is Not
There is no testing available to tell anxious parents if their baby is potentially a SIDS baby. It is a diagnosis which is made only after death, when all other causes have been ruled out. Currently, there is nothing that can be done to prevent SIDS, although some strategies which have helped the SIDS death rate go down, will be discuss further in this article. Due to ongoing medical research SIDS is NOT caused by the following:
- SIDS is not caused by lack of love.
- SIDS is not caused by suffocation, vomiting or choking.
- SIDS is not contagious.
- SIDS is not hereditary.
- SIDS is not caused by baby shots, vitamin deficiency, or hormone imbalance.
- SIDS is not caused by allergies or infection.
- SIDS is not caused by a sleeping parent laying over on the baby.
The Facts About SIDS
- Babies between 2 and 4 months old are most often victims of SIDS, but older and younger babies also die of SIDS.
- Death occurs in seconds, usually during sleep, and the baby does not suffer.
- Cases of SIDS have been reported through history, as far back as the Old Testament.
- Most SIDS victims have appeared to be healthy before death.
- SIDS occurs in families of ALL social and economic levels.
If You Are Pregnant, What Positive Steps Can You Take?
- Do not drink alcohol during pregnancy.
- Do not smoke during pregnancy.
- Avoid going into a house where others are smoking. Avoid people who do smoke.
- Go to the doctor or clinic early in pregnancy.
- Ask the doctor or nurse in the clinic about "good foods to eat" as well as any potential vitamins or minerals (such as folic acid) that you might take during your pregnancy.
- Seek support from family and friends during pregnancy.
- After the baby is born, take your baby to the doctor for regularly scheduled visits and examination.
Things You Can Do To Prevent SIDS
- Put your healthy baby on his or her back or side to sleep. Do this when your baby is being put down for a nap or to bed for the night.
- Some mothers worry that if you put a baby on their back that spit up or vomit may choke them while they are sleeping. There is no evidence that sleeping on the back causes choking. Millions of babies around the world now sleep on their back or side and doctors have not found an increase in choking or other problems.
- Some babies don't like sleeping on their back or side, but most get used to it. Talk to your nurse or doctor if you have questions about your baby's sleep.
- BEDDING: Make sure your baby sleeps on a firm mattress or other firm surface. Don't use fluffy blankets or comforters under the baby. Don't let a baby sleep on a waterbed, sheepskin, a pillow, or other soft material. When your baby is very young, don't place soft stuffed toys or a pillows in the crib with him or her. Some babies have smothered with these soft materials in their crib.
- TEMPERATURE: Babies should be kept warm, but they should not be allowed to get TOO warm. Keep the temperature in your baby's room so that it feels comfortable to you.
- SMOKE FREE: Create a smoke-free zone around your baby. No one should smoke around your baby. Babies and young children exposed to smoke have more colds and other diseases, as well as an INCREASED risk of SIDS.
- DOCTOR OR CLINIC VISITS: If your baby seems sick, call your doctor or clinic right away.
- PRENATAL CARE: A good start for any baby is for mothers to have received early and regular prenatal care. The risk of SIDS is higher for babies whose mothers smoked during pregnancy. It is also important to your baby's well being for pregnant women not to use alcohol or drugs (unless prescribed by a doctor).
- BREAST FEEDING: If possible, you should consider breast feeding your baby. Breast milk helps to keep your baby healthy.
Comforting Bereaved Parents Following SIDS
Although alternative health practitioners are not usually medical doctors, they will, inevitably, within the course of their lifetime as a caregiver, have to deal, more than likely, with a SIDS parent. Or, perhaps the baby was under our care, which makes it even more important not only legally, but from an education stand point, as well. It is better to be prepared for such an event, than to have our client or patient tearfully call us up and be reaching out for help from us, and we stand in stunned silence instead of knowing what to say, instead. Being prepared is, in itself, an act of being a catalyst for their healing, instead of their guilt or shame over the loss of their baby. Here's what you can do as a homeopath or health care giver:
- Listen quietly, allow parent(s) to express their pain.
- Mention the deceased child by name, and talk about the child's special endearing qualities (only if you knew the child).
- Say you are sorry. Admit your own helplessness and frustration. Cry if you feel like it.
- Reassure parents that they did everything they could, that the medical care their child received was the best, or whatever else you know to be TRUE and POSITIVE about the care given to their child.
- Encourage siblings to express as much grief as they are feeling.
- Allow parents to express anger. Anger is healthy. Recognize a parent's need to talk about the child they have lost as much and as often as they want, or to review the circumstances of the death as often as they like.
- Encourage parents to talk openly about their feelings, but don't push.
- Encourage parents to be HONEST about what kind of help they REALLY want from others.
- Everyone's needs and desires are different. Be sure the kindness, you plan is acceptable beforehand by confirming it with parents. Give specific examples of what you can do and what you can offer.
- Give special attention to siblings. They are hurt and confused also, and their parents may be incapable of being very supportive at this time. Encourage them to verbalize their feelings.
- Remember the parents with a note and a phone call on the birthday or the death anniversary of the deceased child. Just say, 'I wanted you to know I was thinking of you and remembering (child's name) ." Or, 'I'm just checking in."
- Assure parents SIDS cannot be predicted, they could not prevent it, and they did not cause SIDS.
- Encourage support group participation and peer contact.
Don't Say The Following
- Don't avoid parents because YOU are uncomfortable. Being avoided by friends and professionals adds pain to an already painful experience.
- Don't make comments which suggest that the care given to the child at home, in the hospital, or at the child care facility was inadequate. Parents are plagued by feelings of doubt and guilt without any help from their family, friends, or professionals.
- Don't change the subject when they mention their dead child, or avoid mentioning the child's name for fear of reminding them of their pain. They haven't forgotten it, even years later.
- AVOID clichés such as: It was 'God's Will' or that "He needed' their child. Parents will spiritualize a child's death if and when they are ready.
- Don't point out that they can "always have another child", or suggest that they should be grateful for their other children. They may be unable to have other children. Children are not interchangeable and cannot replace each other.
- Don't give advice about how they should feel or do. Feelings are never right or wrong - they just are! (Siblings as well)
- Don't say, "Call if you need anything." They need you to reach out to them.
- Don't say, 'You ought to be feeling better by now" or anything else which implies judgment about their feelings.
- Don't say you know how they feel or understand their pain.
- Don't assume their grieving is over in a few weeks or even a few months. They will need ongoing support for AT LEAST A YEAR OR LONGER!
- Don't try to find something positive, such as a moral lesson or closer family ties because of the child's death. The family will come to this realization on their own, if or when it occurs.
A Web Site That May Offer Help
For parents who are needing to grieve as well as looking for support of those who have actually gone through this terrible process, there are on-line web sites run by Joanne Cacciatore, who lost a baby to SIDS. She is a powerful spokeswoman in Arizona, and the nation, for parents who have suffered this loss as well. The web sites are:
- Arizona SIDS Alliance, Phoenix, AZ
- Otto Bremer Foundation
- US Public Health Service, American Academy of Pediatrics, SIDS Alliance and Association of SIDS Program professionals
- Forensics Medicine with
- Arizona SIDS Advisory Council
Copyright © 1997 Eileen Nauman; All Rights Reserved
Eileen Nauman is a homeopath with 27 years of experience in the field, as well as being a registered EMT with the state of Arizona. She is the author of POISONS THAT HEAL, a book on epidemics and homeopathy, and her latest work, due out in January, 1998, HELP! and HOMEOPATHY, on what to do in an emergency after you've called 911 to help homeopathically. She can be reached at her website, http://www.medicinegarden.com or privately at email@example.com. She also has an alternative medicine list, firstname.lastname@example.org, which is open to those who want to learn about alternative methods of healing for themselves and their family.