By DR. SELENA SEABROOKS
The Dallas Examiner
Approximately 3,400 babies die suddenly and unexpectedly in the United States each year. In Texas, from 2016 through 2020, this rate was 87.7 deaths per 100,000 live births. In that four-year span, Black infants had one of the highest rates of sudden unexpected infant deaths – known as SUID, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
SUID occurs among infants less than 1-year-old and has no immediately apparent cause. In 2020, the United States SUID rate was 92.9 deaths per 100,000 live births. These deaths often happen during sleep or in the baby’s sleep area.
- Sudden infant death syndrome – commonly known as SIDS or crib death – is infant deaths due to unknown factors but appears to be related with the part of the brain that controls breathing and sleep arousal.
- Accidental suffocation in a sleeping environment.
- Other deaths from unknown causes.
Though infant mortality rate reached a record low in the U.S. in 2020; the SIDS rate increased from 2019 to 2020. In 2020, nearly 1,389 deaths were due to SIDS, according to the CDC.
To understand whether the increase in SIDS was related to changing death certification practices or the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers examined SUID rates as a group, by cause, and by race and ethnicity.
“With the data we had available for the study, we couldn’t answer the question of why we saw the increase that we did see,” clarified Dr. Sharyn Parks Brown, an epidemiologist and senior scientist in the Reproductive Health Division of the CDC.
Researchers proposed that the increase may have resulted from how SIDS were reported and certified by medical examiners and coroners during the COVID-19 pandemic or the degree to which the influx of pandemic-related deaths overburdened medical examiners and coroner offices.
“There were a couple of guideline changes that were released to the medical examiner community back in 2019 that may have impacted how certifiers were reporting those deaths,” Parks explained, “Those offices being overburdened could have impacted the ability to conduct death investigations for infants as thoroughly as they normally would.”
When examining infant deaths by the cause, the study found that the overall SUID rates from 2015 to 2020 were unchanged. However, there was a 15% change in SIDs from 2019 to 2020, which researchers believe was due to how infant deaths were being certified.
“When we looked overall, at all SUID together, we didn’t see an increase, but there was some sort of shifting happening and how the different causes were being determined within the larger grouping,” she said.
Historically, SUID rates have consistently been highest for American Indian and Alaskan natives, followed by Black infants. However, the study found SUID rates among Black infants increased from 2019 to 2020.
“For the first time since we started tracking the data nationally in 1995, the rate for non-Hispanic Black infants is higher than it was for American Indian and Alaskan native infants,” she added.
The study did not provide an answer to the shift in statistics. Still, researchers will continue monitoring the data as more data becomes available over the next few years.
“We’ll really get a better picture of how things that may have disproportionately impacted the Black population and may have driven those changes, how those may have impacted the differences we were seeing in the statistics,” she said.
Parks expressed that the study’s findings demonstrate a call to action for the Black community, caregivers, and anyone caring for infants.
“The basics of safe sleep are important and following them can help reduce the risks of these deaths,” she said.
To reduce SUID, Parks recommended parents and caregivers ensure that babies are in a safe sleep environment for every sleep, including naps and follow recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which includes:
- Laying the infant on its back in a crib or bassinet with no soft bedding.
- Have the infant in the caregiver’s room for the first six months, but not the same bed.
Metatags: sudden infant death, sudden unexpected infant death, Centers for Disease Control, Sharyn Parks, American Academy of Pediatrics, SIDS, SUID, infant mortality, Black infants