The incidence of SUDI (which includes sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and fatal sleep accidents) in Australia has dropped dramatically. Putting a baby to sleep on their back, keeping the baby's head uncovered and avoiding exposure to tobacco smoke reduces the risk of SUDI.
The sudden unexpected death of a baby, when there is no apparent cause of death, is now called sudden unexpected death in infancy (SUDI), which includes sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and fatal sleep accidents. A baby can die of SUDI at any time of the day or night, but most die quietly in their sleep. SIDS used to be called ‘cot death’.
Young babies are most at risk
SUDI is more common in babies between the ages of two to four months, but it can happen to younger and older babies too. SUDI occurs in both bottle-fed and breastfed babies. Of those who die, around 60 per cent are boys.
Causes of SUDI
People once suspected such things as choking, parental neglect or accidental smothering, but the real causes of SUDI remain unknown. There are no consistent warning signs to alert us to the risk of SUDI. Sometimes the baby wasn’t feeding well on the day they died or may have had a slight cold or tummy upset.
Minor infections are often found in SUDI babies, but these infections are mild and not enough to have caused death. In some cases, bloodied froth or vomit is found around the baby’s mouth, but this naturally occurs soon after death and doesn’t cause the death. Research is ongoing.
Risk factors of SUDI
The number of babies dying suddenly and unexpectedly has reduced dramatically in Victoria. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) compiles statistics on SIDS in Victoria. It has found that the incidence of SIDS has fallen by as much as 84 per cent since 1990.
The incidence of SUDI in Australia is also on the decline. Currently, it is about the same as in other Western countries – around one in every 3,000 births, or 130 babies each year.
The incidence of SUDI has halved in Australia and many other countries since some childcare practices were changed to remove risk factors, such as:
- Putting the baby to sleep on their back
- Making sure the baby’s head remains uncovered during sleep
- Avoiding exposing baby to tobacco smoke, both before and after birth
- Providing a safe sleeping environment (safe cot, safe mattress, safe bedding)
- Sleeping the baby in their own safe sleeping environment next to the parent’s bed for the first six to twelve months of life.
Feelings of guilt and blame
There is a common belief that marital break-up often follows the death of a baby, but this hasn’t been supported by experience or research. Some of the usual emotions felt by bereaved parents include guilt, anger, fear, blame and despair. Because the causes of SUDI are unknown, parents will often come up with their own explanations for the tragedy and blame themselves.
It may be helpful for grieving parents to talk with people outside of the family, such as other bereaved parents, doctors, social workers or counsellors. However, many people find their most valuable support comes from their own family and friends.
Where to get help
- Your doctor
- Social worker
- SIDS and Kids Victoria Tel. (03) 9822 9611 or 1300 308 307
- National Association of Loss and Grief (NALAG) Tel. (03) 9329 4003 or 1800 100 023 – for referral to an accredited grief counsellor
Things to remember
- Sudden unexpected death in infancy (SUDI) is the name for the sudden and unexpected death of a baby when there is no apparent cause of death.
- SUDI includes sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and fatal sleep accidents.
- The risks of SUDI can be reduced by changing some childcare practices.
- The rate of SUDI in Australia and other Western countries is declining.
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SIDS and Kids Victoria
Fact sheet currently being reviewed.
Last reviewed: November 2011
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