Parents' Alcohol Consumption Could Contribute to Infant Deaths, Study Says
Thirty-three percent more babies die of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) on New Year's Day -- a shocking surge that is suspected to be a result of alcohol consumption by caretakers the night before, according to a study published online in November in the journal Addiction.
This spike in SIDS deaths on New Year's is beyond the normal winter increase in SIDS, according to lead researcher and sociologist David Phillips of the University of California, San Diego.
The study, which examined 129,090 SIDS cases between 1973 and 2006, using three different nationwide datasets, is the first large-scale U.S. study to explore the possible connections between alcohol and SIDS, according to the authors.
The incidence of SIDS has decreased significantly since 1994, when the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) implemented the "Back to Sleep" campaign, urging caregivers to put infants on their backs to sleep, among other "safe sleep" recommendations. However, SIDS continues to be the leading cause of death for children ages one month to one year, the authors report.
The current study reports three types of evidence linking SIDS to alcohol: In addition to rising more on New Year's than any other day of the year -- just like alcohol consumption -- SIDS and alcohol consumption also increase every weekend. Also, babies of mothers who drink are more than twice as likely to die of SIDS.
Strikingly, the authors also found an increase in SIDS deaths just after April 20th each year, which is the date of a counterculture celebration of marijuana, and after July 4th, which they say is also considered an inebriated time.
To examine the possibility that parents sleeping in might account for the dramatic rise in SIDS -- rather than alcohol intoxication -- the authors also looked at statistics relating to the shift to daylight savings time in the fall, when many people sleep later due to the time change; however, Phillips says there was no rise in SIDS during this time.
The study does not definitively point to alcohol consumption as a direct cause of SIDS, but Phillips says the link is a concern, as parents may not be as good at parenting -- for example, following the "Back to Sleep" guidelines -- when they have been drinking.
"We know that when people are under the influence of alcohol their judgments are impaired and they are not as good at performing tasks. This would include caretaking," Phillips says.
In conclusion, the authors suggest that a campaign similar to the successful "Back to Sleep" program might be implemented to help inform caretakers that alcohol impairs parental capacity and therefore potentially a risk factor for SIDS.
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