Anna Margaret Foster
Memphis resident and University of Mississippi sophomore Whitney Waits-Easley has experienced Sudden Infant Death Syndrome firsthand. Her 5-month-old nephew suddenly passed away in January of 2018. She said the hardest part is not knowing the cause of her nephew’s death.
“You hear all the time about kids passing away due to SIDS,” she said, “but I never thought this would become a reality to me. It is so hard not getting comfort in knowing the cause of [my nephew’s] death.”
Waits-Easley said the experience has made her passionate about SIDS prevention, and she always shares her story with others. “I want others to realize that Sudden Infant Death Syndrome is a real situation that affects the families of those long after the death of the child,” Waits-Easley said.
Every year, families suddenly and unexpectedly lose children less than one year of age. This is known as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or SIDS. In 2016, there were about 1,500 deaths due to SIDS, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention website.
October is Sudden Infant Death Syndrome Awareness Month, and throughout Mississippi, many are gathering to promote SIDS prevention. The Mississippi SIDS and Infant Safety Alliance is run by Cathy Files in Madison, Mississippi. Files said she and her husband, Jeff, started the group in 1999 after their 14-week-old daughter passed away from SIDS.
“At the time, Mississippi did not have any grief support or education for families affected by SIDS,” she said. “We did not want anyone else to go through this tragedy alone, and (we) created the organization in a hope that Anna Clare would not have died in vain.”
Files said the Mississippi SIDS and Infant Safety Alliance supports families affected by Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. “We seek to provide education on how to have a safe sleep environment to new or expecting parents,” the website reads.
Because most cases of SIDS occur when a baby is in a crib sleeping, SIDS is also sometimes called “crib death.” However, other aspects of an infant’s sleeping environment have been associated with an increasing risk of SIDS.
“You cannot prevent SIDS because we do not know what causes it, but you can reduce the risk of SIDS greatly by following Safe to Sleep guidelines,” Files said. “The majority of the 2016 SUID deaths (50) were from unsafe sleep environments. All of those babies could have been saved if they had been placed in a safe sleep environment.”
Files said education plays a huge role in reducing SIDS/SUID and all sleep-related infant deaths in Mississippi. “It is so important that the Safe Sleep message is reaching all families which, in turn, we hope they will incorporate this knowledge at home by providing a safe sleep environment in their homes for their sweet babies,” she said.
Although there is no known cause for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, Files said there are some precautions that can be made to reduce the risk.
1. Place babies on their back for every sleep. This is because their neck muscles are not strong at birth. They should remain on their backs until their neck muscles are strong.
2. Place the baby on their back in a crib, bassinet, or Pack n’ Play that has nothing in it except a baby firm mattress and fitted sheet. You should not put blankets, pillows, stuffed animals, or bumper pads in the crib.
Files offered tips to reduce the risk of suffocation. “The adult bed is one of the most dangerous places a baby can sleep, (including the couch and recliner),” she said. “You should never share a bed with your baby, but the American Academy of Pediatrics does suggest placing the baby’s crib in the parent’s room for the first six months.”
Taking care of your body, and not smoking, drinking, or taking illegal drugs may lower the risk of SIDS.
Like Waits-Easley and her family, many families throughout Mississippi are regularly affected by SIDS. With the help of those like Files and her team, Mississippi is working to combat this issue and give children the chance to live.
“I want everyone to know that even though SIDS is not what anyone wants to talk or think about when expecting a baby, as parents, we are responsible for keeping our babies safe, and there are simple ways to reduce the risk of SIDS and accidental suffocation/strangulation,” Files said. “We are in the belief that every child should live, and we want these sweet babies to celebrate their first birthday.”