Sudden Infant Death Syndrome remains threat in black community


For an expecting mother, nothing compares to the sheer joy from feeling her baby’s movement inside of her womb. Anticipating parenthood for nine months can be exhilarating. However, in addition to stocking up on baby supplies and decorating a nursery, new parents should also be aware of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

SIDS (also known as “crib death”) occurs when infants stop breathing in their sleep. Babies under one year of age are more likely to be affected by the condition. According to the American Lung Association, SIDS was the third leading cause of death among African American infants in 2001. A combination of biological and environmental factors contributes to this health disparity.

The Department of Health and Human Services reports that researchers at the University of Chicago have identified an abnormal gene in some black infants. The genetic mutation does not cause SIDS, but the research suggests that it causes these babies to be more vulnerable to environmental challenges (such as breathing difficulties) tolerated by children without the gene.

Despite years of research, SIDS remains an unpredictable culprit. Nevertheless, there are steps parents can take to decrease the risk of SIDS in their infant. Putting a baby to sleep on his or her back may promote easier breathing and reduce the chance of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

Heather Burley, a stay-at-home mom from Northeast Minneapolis, explains her experience with SIDS: “My first child died of SIDS. I never thought his sleeping position would affect his breathing. My husband and I had another son. We make sure he sleeps on his back and his crib is free of clutter.”

There are other measures parents and caretakers can follow to reduce the incidence of SIDS. Place babies on a firm mattress to sleep; pillows, waterbeds and other soft surfaces could hinder an infant’s breathing. Do not place stuffed toys or heavy blankets near a baby during sleep. Be sure to keep your home smoke free; exposure to secondhand smoke increases the risk of SIDS and affects an infant’s central nervous system.

Women who are pregnant can begin taking precautions now to promote the well-being of their unborn child. Early and regular prenatal checkups may prevent complications during and after pregnancy. Eliminating psychological and environmental toxins will also reduce stress.

Most women know to avoiding using alcohol and drugs and other risky behaviors during pregnancy. However, psychological stress caused by toxic relationships can also threaten an unborn child’s health. Nakye Seymour, an accountant from Shakopee, explains her fetal demise: “My pregnancy was an emotional rollercoaster ride. I was involved in an unstable relationship and felt depressed a lot. I think the mental stress and lack of self-care is what led to an unsuccessful pregnancy.”

Nurturing the mind, body and spirit during pregnancy is essential. Eating well-balanced meals and exercising can improve physical health. Yet, pregnant women should not neglect their mental and spiritual well-being. Take a few moments (or a whole day) to meditate and replenish spiritually.

Cindy Larson is a social worker and resides in South Minneapolis. “I’m five months pregnant with my first child,” she says. “I eat right and receive regular checkups. I also take time every day to just be still and unwind mentally. It keeps me balanced and in touch with my unborn child.”

Parents can apply a holistic approach in caring for their babies before and after they are born. Be consciously aware of your infant’s physical environment. Give him or her the attention and feeling of significance that all human beings deserve and crave. Stimulate your babies’ intellect, and nurture them with love.