Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is the leading cause of death among infants between one month and one year old of age. In spite of intensive research, it is still a "diagnosis of exclusion", which is only made after other causes have been investigated and ruled out. The medical community can not explain why it happens, and we have only been able to offer educated guesses as to how parents might protect their children, based on the research to date.
The current belief, based on research evidence that has been accumulating, is that some infants may be more suseptible to this problem, which may be triggered by shallow breathing that allows exhaled breath, which is lower in oxygen and higher in carbon dioxide, to be breathed in again. This is why doctors have been giving the advice that there should be no loose bed clothes, and infants should be placed on their back for sleeping, to avoid obstruction. Since bedroom fans move air around, doctors have wondered if their use might prevent stale air from accumulating around a baby's face and lower the risk of SIDS. We now have evidence that this is true!
Research conducted by the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research and published Monday in the October issue of the Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine, found that infants sleeping in a room where air was ventilated with a fan had a 72 percent lower risk of SIDS than babies who slept without fans. This observation is astounding, and it fits in with earlier studies which have shown that soft bedding (into which a baby might sink her face) may be linked to SIDS. Other risk factors that have been identified include living in a house with a smoker and being a premature baby or having a low birth weight. Black and American Indian babies seem to have an elevated statistical risk of SIDS, and SIDS affects more baby boys than girls. Interestingly, most SIDS deaths occur in fall or winter, when bedroom fans might not be used as much.
This study is very promising, but it is not conclusive, and does not yet prove a cause of SIDS. It does offer us a simple, safe and inexpensive action, however, which has no side effects and offers great promise to save the lives of many babies! We need to get the word out!