Handbook for Mortals : Dying suddenly : Sudden Infant Death Syndrome

The death of a child is a heartrending loss. People might expect their parents or grandparents to die, but no one expects children to die first. When an infant appears healthy, as in the case of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), parents are especially stricken. You fear you did something wrong, or didn't do something that should have been done.

About SIDS

An enormous amount of research has been done looking into the possible causes of SIDS. To date, only a little is known for sure about SIDS, which:

Sometimes a baby who has died from SIDS will look as though he is just sleeping. If some time has passed before it is realized that the baby is dead, blood can pool in the baby's face. To inexperienced eyes, this can look like bruising. It is not surprising, although it is very hurtful, that emergency workers, the police, or even family may think that someone deliberately hurt the baby. Such confusion can lead to terrible misunderstandings or accusations. Sometimes parents believe a sibling, or one's spouse, may have struck the baby.

Even after SIDS is diagnosed, it is natural for parents or other caregivers to wonder if something was done wrong which could have prevented the death. Parents report being plagued with the thought that they should have tried to wake the baby from his nap sooner, or that they should not have slept in on that morning, or that she should have been put down on her tummy, or on her back. We so desperately need to find a reason, a way to comprehend the incomprehensible.

No amount of foresight or care can prevent SIDS. Although SIDS happens most often at night, babies have been known to die in car seats and even while being held. You could not have prevented what happened. Nothing that you or anyone else did, or didn't do, caused your baby's death. Networks of parents who have experienced this loss do seem to help one another a great deal. If you have to endure this loss, be especially gentle with yourself and your spouse. Because this death is unexplainable, it will often cause real strains between a couple. Professional help is probably worth pursuing.

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Handbook for Mortals book cover Copyright © 1999, 2006 by Joanne Lynn. This extract from the Handbook for Mortals by Joanne Lynn, M.D. and Joan Harrold, M.D. is used with permission. To learn more about improving care at the end of life visit the main web site for Americans for Better Care of the Dying.
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