Unexpected Infant Death (SUID) Risk Factors Depending on the Age

A new study finds that babies who die within the first week and the first month of life have different risk factors from those who die later.

Key takeaways:
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    Babies that die of SUID within the first week/month of life have different risk factors than babies that die after one month.
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    A study showed that the majority of the babies who died within the first week died in the hospital before discharge. Death within the first week is not related to the home environment.
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    Babies born by cesarean section were more likely to die within the first week.
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    It is rare for a baby to die from SUID within the first month of life and even rarer in the first week.
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    More research is needed to better understand the differences in risk factors for babies that die early on versus babies that die after one month.

It is rare for a baby to die under the age of one month, and even more so within the first week. Why do risk factors change depending on the age of death? Researchers suggest further investigation.

What scientists already know about SUID

Every year in the United States, there are around 3,400 infant deaths from SUID within the first year of life. There are three primary types of SUID:

  • Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
  • Accidental Suffocation/Strangulation in bed.
  • Unknown cause.

Statistics show that nearly half of the deaths are defined as SIDS (41%), while unknown cause (32%) and accidental suffocation/strangulation (27%) make up the remaining percentages.

Race influences the SUID death rates, with non-Hispanic American Indian/Alaska Native and non-Hispanic Black infants being at the highest risk. Infants at greatest risk for SIDS are non-Hispanic Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander infants and non-Hispanic White infants. Deaths from unknown causes were highest in Hispanic infants. It remains unknown why race plays a role in death rates.

While the number of infant death cases has slowed in the last twenty years due to safe sleep promotion, the current prevalence of deaths still warrants further research and prevention implementation.

Although the causes of SIDS remain unknown, researchers have identified risk factors that include:

  • Sex - males are at higher risk.
  • Prematurity and low birth weight.
  • Respiratory illnesses/infections.
  • Unsafe sleeping environments.
  • Secondhand smoke exposure.
  • Brain defects that affect breathing and sleep arousal.

A new study sheds light on SUID risk factors and the age at death

Researchers at Rutgers University conducted a study comparing risk factors for SUID deaths that occurred within the first week versus the remaining weeks of the first month of life. All of the babies in the study were 34 weeks gestation or older.

Despite the study’s small group size and limitations, it was noted that babies who died within the first week of life died in the hospital setting more often than at home. Although the causes of hospital deaths remain unclear, it should be noted that death within the first week of life is not limited to the home environment and occurs more prevalently in the hospital.

The common risk factors for mothers whose children die of SUID were not as prevalent in the babies that died within the first week. These risk factors include mothers who smoke, have limited education, and receive inadequate prenatal care.

Babies that died within the first week lacked the common risk factors of SUID and were more likely to have been delivered by cesarean section. It is important to understand why babies born via cesarean are more likely to die within the first week and why the risk factors change depending on when the baby dies. The Rutgers study concluded that more research is needed to determine the differences in age-related SUID deaths.

The perplexities of SUID death rates

The first six weeks following the birth of a baby is considered the postpartum period for new mothers. During this timeframe, families are adjusting to life with a new baby, they are establishing new home routines, and they are learning to care for a newborn. Feeding regimens are being instituted, and babies are learning to breastfeed or bottle feed.

One would think this time of transition during the first month would increase the risk of a baby dying prematurely, but in fact, it is less common, and deaths occur more frequently after the first month of life.

The first week following birth is a period when mothers are still recovering from the delivery, especially for mothers who had a cesarean section. Fatigue and pain are likely to still be an issue, as well as the use of pain medications, all of which can affect a mother’s response time and concentration. Yet, it is even rarer for a baby to die of SUID within the first week.

Due to the perplexities related to the timing of SUID deaths and risk factor variations, researchers must continue to study the risk factors, possible causes, and age-related differences of babies that die from SUID. Although the number of SUID deaths had decreased over twenty years ago following the implementation of safe sleep campaigns, there has not been any further decline despite all the prevention efforts and tips to reduce risk factors. Continued research, monitoring statistics, and asking additional questions will hopefully shed more light on SUID.


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