More threads by David Baxter PhD

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
Mental Illness in Parents Linked to SIDS
Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Scientists have long searched to discover the cause of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), which is responsible for the majority of postneonatal deaths in developed countries. Although the specific reasons why SIDS occurs remain elusive, researchers at the University of Manchester in England have found that infants whose parents have a history of inpatient psychiatric care are at heightened risk for SIDS.

The researchers used national registries in Denmark to find information on single infant births, infant mortality, and adult psychiatric hospitalizations for substance abuse, schizophrenia and related disorders, and mood disorders. They then identified all cases of SIDS that occurred in Denmark between 1973 and 1998. The study's results show that when one parent had been hospitalized for any psychiatric condition, the infant was more than twice as likely as the general population to develop SIDS. When both parents had a history of hospitalization for psychiatric reasons, the infant's level of risk rose sevenfold. The highest level of risk was associated with substance abuse, especially in mothers. When the father had been hospitalized for substance abuse, the infant was about 2.5 times as likely as the general public to develop SIDS, but when the mother had been hospitalized for substance abuse, the infant was 5 times as likely.

SIDS strikes without warning and has no known cause, but researchers have identified a number of risk factors. Smoking and substance abuse, both during and after pregnancy, have been cited as a potential risk factor for SIDS, so it is not surprising that the children of individuals hospitalized for substance abuse have such a high risk. Parents who continue to abuse drugs or alcohol after their child is born are also more likely to be inattentive caregivers, and they might not be aware of the importance of their child's sleeping position, which can put children at risk for SIDS. Smoking is also more common among the mentally ill than the general population, so a person hospitalized for any psychiatric illness could also smoke at home, putting their children at risk for SIDS.

Past research has focused on schizophrenia in mothers as a risk factor for SIDS. However, this study indicates that the connection between schizophrenia and SIDS is no greater than the connection between other mental disorders and SIDS, and substance abuse carries the highest risk of the psychiatric conditions studied. With more research, we may be able to better illuminate the association between schizophrenia and SIDS.

Knowing the risk factors, we can help target those who are most likely to be affected by SIDS. When treating patients with mental illness, especially those with substance abuse problems, physicians can explain the risk factors and educate potential parents on the best ways to prevent SIDS. Since 1992, when the American Academy of Pediatrics first released information on ways to prevent SIDS, including always putting infants on their backs to sleep, the incidence of SIDS has fallen by 50% :acrobat:. By emphasizing preventative measures to those whose children will be most at risk, we can hopefully reduce the rate of SIDS even further.
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