Help me understand how rare SIDS is
August 8, 2008 5:58 PM   Subscribe

I have an infant son and have become terrified that he'll die of SIDS. I'm dumb about statistics, so I'd like a few examples of things that are more likely to happen to him than SIDS.

I know that the incidence of SIDS is between 1 and 2 per 1,000 births. Logically, I know that this is low, but emotionally I just keep thinking about those one or two babies who will die. It's gotten to the point where I check on my son several times a night, and also sleep on the floor of his room because I'm afraid to leave him (co-sleeping really isn't an option for us - he rolls around a lot in his sleep and doesn't sleep well except in my arms or in his nice, roomy crib). Even though he's not at an elevated risk for SIDS - he's breastfed, had a good birth weight, isn't exposed to smoking, and sleeps in a crib with nothing but a fitted sheet - I can't help but be worried.

It would be reassuring to know some things that are more likely to happen to him than SIDS. For example, I read that 1 in 100 kids get a sports scholarship to a Division I school, so I tell myself that he's more likely to get a basketball scholarship than die of SIDS. I know that this is probably a completely wrong use of statistics, but it makes me feel better.

So are there other outlandish things that have a 1 in 1000 or better chance of happening? I'd love to hear about them.

Also, here's a picture of the little guy. Please note that I was taking a picture of the blanket and he blinked at the flash - I don't let him sleep that way :-)
posted by christinetheslp to Science & Nature (30 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Congrats, you're normal. My kids are 5 and 2. I still check to see if they're breathing. I check my 12-year-old dog to see if she's still breathing, too. My wife is certain that I'm crazy.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:03 PM on August 8, 2008 [2 favorites]

The incidence of SIDS is half of what you think it is. Roughly 1 in 2,000 deaths. (Wikipedia). The rate of SIDS is declining steadily (American SIDS Institute).

Give some consideration to talking to a doctor. You don't mention how old your son is, but it's entirely possible that your anxiety is related to post-partum hormonal adjustments.
posted by DWRoelands at 6:12 PM on August 8, 2008

What Papa Bell said. My kids are 16 & 17 and prone to sleep-ins, and I still fret about them dying in their sleep and very rarely, sneak into their rooms to make sure i can hear them breathing.

However, instead of trying to reassure you with statistics, I suggest you apply some sort of aversion techniques when you think like this, or there will be other issues. I was somewhat overprotective of my children when they were younger, to their detriment. Don't climb that, you might fall out and break your neck, sort of thing. So, rubber band on the wrist, if you start thinking about SIDS (which I might add you seem to have taken all necessary precautions against) then twang - sting yourself.
posted by b33j at 6:16 PM on August 8, 2008

He's significantly more likely to die sometime after he's 100 years old.
posted by Flunkie at 6:20 PM on August 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think it's a totally normal thing to think and worry about. I didn't know the stats, all I figure is that we let our munchkin sleep on her back, and if I did that, we'd all be fine.

When the little guy can finally roll around on his own, it's fine if he doesn't end up sleeping on his back all night. Our pediatrician made us feel better about all of that.
posted by EastCoastBias at 6:26 PM on August 8, 2008

Read this, and comfort yourself.
posted by gjc at 6:32 PM on August 8, 2008

You want something like this? (Googled 'death odds')

Poisoning.... 1 in 1400
Exposure to smoke, fire and flames: ... 1 in 1060
Accidental drowning and submersion:... 1 in 1028
Falls... 1 in 269
Intentional self-harm by firearm... 1 in 216
Transport accidents... 1 in 77.

Makes you never want to ride in a car again.
posted by PercussivePaul at 6:32 PM on August 8, 2008

Well, he's 25 times as likely to kill himself. On a more positive note, according to this very unreliable source, he's 10 times as likely to date a millionaire! (I'm assuming the odds are the same for men & women.)
posted by salvia at 6:51 PM on August 8, 2008

There really is no such thing as SIDS...babies just don't die for no reason. SIDS is just a label used to explain a death that (at the time) is "unexplainable".

I am not a parent, but I feel your worrying is normal.
posted by C17H19NO3 at 6:55 PM on August 8, 2008 [2 favorites]

4 times as likely to want to dress like a woman
20 times more likely to be in prison at any given time, and 100 times more likely to go to state or federal prison at some point in his life
posted by salvia at 7:01 PM on August 8, 2008

Sorry, the link on that second prison factoid is this pdf.
posted by salvia at 7:02 PM on August 8, 2008

I can't offer stats, but it's totally normal to worry like that. There is a parental instinct when you have a baby to just make sure you are keeping it alive! It's both scary and funny at the same time. I would often make an excuse to get up in the middle of the night, but would really get up to check on my baby daughter. My wife and I had the same fear, and I wasn't being as clever as I thought, I soon found out. I'd come back to bed and she would say, "Is she alright?" She knew there was no way I would get up without checking.

My daughter is 18 now, and leaving for college in a couple weeks. I still often peek in her bedroom when she is asleep. I don't leave until I see her breathing.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 7:17 PM on August 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

It's not an answer to your question, but may I suggest a movement monitor like this so you can get some sleep? I think it's normal to be concerned, at least I hope so as I still do it for my 5-year-old, but too concerned = no sleep = worse paranoia.

He's very cute!
posted by lunaazul at 7:26 PM on August 8, 2008

Get out a quarter, a six-sided die, and a thoroughly shuffled deck of cards. On a piece of paper, write down heads or tails, a number between 1 and 6 and a card. Then flip the coin, roll the die, and randomly pluck a card out of the deck. The probability that you wrote down the correct outcomes for all three of those is 1 in 624, substantially greater than 1 in 1000.

When my dad had bypass surgery, I used calculations like that to calm myself down. My dad had a much greater risk of complications than the risk you're worried about --- his odds were about 1 in 100 --- so I had to use the much more likely: "Shuffle a deck of cards with red backs and a deck of cards with blue backs together, throwing away the ace of spades and ace of diamonds from each deck. Then name a card and back color, and pull a card out of the deck at random. Odds you'll get the card and back color you named are 1 in 100." I actually performed this experiment while waiting to hear from my mother with the results. (He's fine, by the way.)
posted by jacobm at 7:32 PM on August 8, 2008 [22 favorites]

i am not a parent.

you might want to look into a bit of therapy for your anxiety--it seems normal to me, but the compulsion to act on it all the time might start to turn into a counterproductive habit when he reaches running-with-scissors age. so one thing you might need to learn how to do is not act upon your anxieties or find some other way to reassure yourself.

i have no idea if these things work, but i googled "baby breathing monitor" and found this. it might give you enough peace of mind to sleep in your own bed again.

your anxiety will rub off on him, so addressing it is good for you both.
posted by thinkingwoman at 7:53 PM on August 8, 2008

Worrying is normal, but... well, this is AskMe, where we all like to pretend to be experts and diagnose things the asker wasn't asking about. Other threads get "ADD!" or "DTMFA!" For you, I offer PPD. If you're really worried to the point that you're sleeping on his floor, that's not good.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:53 PM on August 8, 2008

He's got a much better chance of being gay than of dying of SIDS, just for example. You could sit up at night practicing your "It's all right if you have something you need to tell us, Junior, we'll accept you" speech instead of checking on him. ;)
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 8:36 PM on August 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

Something, or somethings causes SIDS. It looks like you are doing the things you can do to limit known risk factors. I bet that the 1 in 2000 figure is for the public-at-large, and by doing the things you are doing you push yourself into a much better bracket.
posted by dirtdirt at 8:40 PM on August 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

Flip ten coins. The odds of all of these coins coming up heads is very close to 1 in 1000.

Remember that the 1 in 1000 statistic isn't referring to "every time the baby goes to bed, there's a 1 in 1000 chance that they'll die". It's referring to "this baby, over the course of their entire infancy, has a 1 in 1000 chance of dying from SIDS". The nightly probability of death from SIDS (assuming a 1-year window of risk) is about 1 in 360,000.

This is approximately equivalent to getting 18 heads in a row.

So every night, you're flipping 18 coins, not just 10, and you're safe as long as you get even one tails.
posted by Jpfed at 9:35 PM on August 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

Also, if you're thinking about it this much, I'm sure you're already doing the things that significantly lower the probability of SIDS, such as making sure he's always sleeping on his back during those crucial first months, and not sleeping under soft bedding.
posted by umbĂș at 9:43 PM on August 8, 2008

He's adorable, by the way! I like the picture.
posted by umbĂș at 9:44 PM on August 8, 2008

It's helpful to remember that the key risk factors associated with SIDS are largely within your control. Don't smoke. Sleep them at the bottom of the crib under a light but snugly-tucked blanket. Looking for things that are more likely to happen will just make you worry about them instead.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 9:44 PM on August 8, 2008

Oh geez, I went through this. After about the second day home (when it really hit me that OMG I LOVE THIS BABY MORE THAN ANYTHING EVARR!!!) I had the SIDS thought. I swear I didn't sleep for days- I would literally lay next to her making sure she was breathing and any funny baby noise sent me into a panic. I got a "life is unpredictable, that's what makes it special, lighten up Francis" speech from an Aunt and was finally able to unclench. My best friend not only worried about SIDS but worked herself into hysteria about the possibility that a plane might crash into her house (160+ miles from an airport) and was eventually diagnosed with post partum depression. Some worry is normal, life altering worry is a problem.

(I check on the 9 year old every night before I go to bed and the toddler every time I pass her room. You'll never quit worrying about that which you can't control.)
posted by Mamapotomus at 11:19 PM on August 8, 2008

I still frequently check on my children, too. He's 11 and she's 10 now and I let them wander off often when the sun is up.

Please know you're doing fine. I took my two to bed with me, and just the other day my mother let me know that apparently I was increasing their chances for SIDS. Well, not at the time, I wasn't, I told her. When they were babies, taking them to bed with you was supposed to decrease the chance of SIDS.

It's always something.

There will always be worries. A lot of them are beyond your control. You're doing a beautiful, and difficult, job right now. Just keep doing everything you can to help that gorgeous little man turn, eventually, into a good man.

He sure is a cutie! :)
posted by lilywing13 at 1:36 AM on August 9, 2008

Oh Jesus, I know the feeling. The doctor always warned us "For God's sake, never let her sleep on her stomach."

My little girl ALWAYS sleeps on her stomach. From birth on. If placed on her back, her eyes instantly flew open, and she started screaming. I would go check on her about 20 times a night ( she slept all night, every night, since the day we brought her home. )

She's almost two now, and I still check on her about 10 times a night.
posted by bradth27 at 1:50 AM on August 9, 2008

I'd have been SIDS-paranoid if I'd given my daughter her own room, too. Just because a lot of people do something does not make it a good idea; I really think you should re-assess your sleeping arrangements, because if you're frightened and sleeping on your son's floor, things are not working as they should. If you can sleep with him in your arms, do that. If not, you could try a sidecar crib arrangement.

Those movement monitors you can buy at "Babies R Us" etc are just rip-offs for frightened new parents; there is absolutely no evidence that they prevent SIDS.

I suspect the anxiety a lot of new mothers suffer is a natural fall-out of separate rooms. James McKenna and others have theorized that SIDS is the fallout of such practices, too. Of interest.
posted by kmennie at 6:55 AM on August 9, 2008

Also agree with the people who say SIDS isn't one thing. It's a syndrome, which is just a group of symptoms or causes for some result. Or like in the case of AIDS, one cause for many results.

There is always a reason why someone dies, it's just that medicine hasn't been able to explains some of them and grouped them together as SIDS.

Now, let's say the odds are 1 in 1000 for all causes of SIDS. If you correct for all the causes you can, not smoking, doing heroin while you were pregnant, taking vitamins, letting the kid sleep on his back, not letting the cat steal his soul, not leaving things in the crib that will strangle him, etc., you will have corrected for the VAST MAJORITY of causes. Leaving you with odds closer to 1 in 100000 or 1 in 1000000.
posted by gjc at 7:01 AM on August 9, 2008

nthing the risk reduction stats. By controlling for all the contributing factors, you're drastically improving your child's odds.

ALSO, current SIDS rates are far below ~1.5/1000 live births. In fact, they haven't been that high since the 1980s. Right now you're looking at somewhere below 0.53/1000 with only about 75% of babies being put to sleep on their backs (these are 2003 numbers, and they've only improved since then).

It sounds like you're doing everything right, but for confirmation you may want to check out the NIH's website.
posted by The White Hat at 7:27 AM on August 9, 2008

Or, you know, what DWRoelands said.
posted by The White Hat at 7:29 AM on August 9, 2008

He is adorable! Congratulations. These folks have given you great advice on the real rarity of SIDS--I took great comfort in that when my babies were little, though I had the same anxiety that you're having. Now I only check on my two-year old once a night. And the 7 year-old once a night (but that's to see if she fell asleep with the flashlight on).

You said that sleeping in your bed with you won't work for him, but I wonder if being in your room in a pack 'n play or some such would work for a while? That would probably make you feel easier, and it might facilitate feeding him during the night, if he's waking up to be fed.

Good luck and enjoy! I know it sounds crazy, but you'll miss these days one day!
posted by Beckminster at 11:09 AM on August 9, 2008

« Older I want to fetch coffee for the future POTUS or...   |   Trying Like Hell To Defeat The Purpose Of... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.