From Komei Shimbun, November 13, 1997

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Towards Prevention of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome)
No More Tragedies (1): Solidarity of Families
Risk Factors Include Prone Sleeping Position

The problem of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome), in which an infant suddenly dies while asleep for no apparent reasons, is beginning to attract widespread public attention. For parents, there are few traumas as agonizing as losing a precious new-born “treasure.” Nonetheless, tragedies are repeated again and again, and SIDS remains the leading cause of death of infants in Japan as well as in the United States and other Western nations. In those countries, however, campaigns to prevent SIDS have been conducted for more than a decade, and in one country the number of SIDS occurrences has declined to one-seventh of the pre-campaign level. This series of four articles explores the question of what measures we should take to prevent SIDS. (Reporter: Takeo Iwaki, City News Section)

A typical case of SIDS occurs as follows.

Four-month-old Tsuyoshi (not his real name) was a little rascal with a vigorous appetite for milk. Only two weeks before the fatal incident, he had a scheduled checkup. He weighed above-average 8,000 grams, and the physician who examined him reported that the infant was developing normally with no abnormal signs.

“On that day, he took the afternoon milk as usual and played for a while. He fell asleep soon after I put him down to bed. I cleaned up the kitchen, observed his contented sleeping face, and went out to the balcony to hang up the laundry. When I checked his bed again about 30 minutes later, I noticed that something was wrong. I picked him up calling his name, but he was already limp and breathless.” (Excerpted from Hiroshi Nishida, Nyuuyouji Totsuzenshi Shoukougun to Sono Kazoku no Tame ni [Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and Words for SIDS Families])

This is how a SIDS attack occurs–it happens suddenly one day with no warning signs whatever. The void that can never be filled, the depth of solitude, the tormenting sense of guilt, anger, and remorse–only parents who lost their child to SIDS can comprehend the magnitude of the trauma.

SIDS is the leading cause of death of infants from 7 days to one year of age. In Japan, about 600 infants die of SIDS each year. (This number translates into one death per 2,000 births.) How can we cope with this “irrational death” with no unknown causes?

Stephanie Fukui (39) who now resides in Minato-ku, Tokyo married her Japanese husband in Chicago, U.S.A. in 1981. Five years later, she had her first baby born dead. “I had thought I could never be able to recover from the devastation caused by the loss of my dear baby, when I received a telephone call from a support group. Attending its meetings in Chicago helped me a great deal,” says Stephanie.

She moved to Japan six months after she lost the baby. In order to give meaning to the death of her daughter, she decided to provide support to parents who suffer from similar afflictions. Using the support group in Chicago as a model, Ms. Fukui organized in 1992 the SIDS Family Association Japan whose purpose is to provide support to families that lost a baby to SIDS or because of stillbirth or congenital abnormality. She serves as president of the organization, which now has 700 members and eleven chapters across Japan.

The primary object of the organization’s activities is to provide moral support to the families who lost their baby. To those families which suffer from utmost sorrow and despair, knowing that there are friends with whom they can share their feelings can be a source of great strength. In the organization, these people who can serve as friends of victim’s families are called “befrienders.”

All of the befrienders are those who have experienced a sudden death of their child. One such volunteer is Ms. Akie Hotta (37) of Yokohama City, who has served as a befriender longer than anyone else in the organization. She has been telling the mothers of SIDS victims, who cannot openly cry because of the misunderstandings of people around her, to “go ahead and cry,” and listening to them attentively, in one-on-one meetings with a victim’s family or in small meetings of families. “I find great satisfaction in being told that they are glad that they had a chance to talk to someone. Many parents express anger at doctors who treat their babies as though they were inanimate objects and police officers who suspect them of criminal acts,” says Ms. Hotta.

In order to reduce the number of grieving families, the SIDS Family Association Japan mounted a campaign in March of this year to disseminate information on the prevention of SIDS by distributing a booklet it prepared. Although the causes of SIDS are not year clearly known, risk factors that may induce SIDS are well known around the world. In this campaign, the organization urges parents to observe the following five points: (1) Do not put down the baby to sleep face down, (2) do not leave the baby alone if at all possible, (3) do not overheat the infant’s surroundings, (4) do not smoke around the baby, and (5) breast-feed the baby if possible.

Similar campaigns have been conducted aborad since as early as 1987, which drastically reduced the rates of SIDS occurrences. The most dramatic result is found in New Zealand where the rate has fallen to one-seventh of the rate observed prior to the inception of the campaign.

It is worth noting, however, that in these countries governments have taken up SIDS as a national issue, and conducted SIDS prevention campaigns in cooperation with family organizations. At the Fourth International SIDS Conference held in Washington, D.C. last June, family associations from 29 countries were represented. The intensity of public interest in the subject was attested by the fact that messages and addresses were delivered by President Clinton, Senator Edward Kennedy, First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, and other influential public leaders.

In Japan, the Ministry of Health and Welfare began this year a nationwide study of SIDS cases. Taking into due consideration the results of the study, the ministry will decide whether or not it will initiate its own nationwide SIDS prevention campaign. Suggested measures that could be incorporated into such a campaign include providing information on SIDS in maternity passbooks, handing out a booklet to expecting mothers when they file a notice of pregnancy, and disseminating information on SIDS prevention to public health nurses. Since it is a life-or-death matter, those concerned urge that the government take a bold step to implement these measures as soon as possible.

Yokohama City, a pacesetter in SIDS prevention activities, has since July of this year been handing out booklets on SIDS to expecting mothers when it issues maternity passbooks to them.

In a nutshell, the crux of the matter is how to filter the information on SIDS prevention down to the front line of childcare at home and in day nurseries.

(For directing inquiries to the SIDS Family Association Japan, call 03-3499-3111.)

SIDS is an acronym for “Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.” In 1978, SIDS was recognized as a separate medical disorder and was listed in the International Classification of Diseases. In Japan, the SIDS Research Team was established in 1981 in the Ministry of Health and Welfare, which has since conducted research on the disorder. SIDS is defined as: “a syndrome that brought the sudden death of an infant which could not be predicted from the medical history of the victim, and which remains unexplained after a thorough case investigation including examination of the death scene and a complete autopsy.” Eighty percent of SIDS deaths occur before a baby is six months old.

This article is translated into English by Mommy Home Childcare Service and reproduced here with permission of Komei Shimbun. Mommy Home Childcare Service is solely responsible for the accuracy of translation. All acts of copyright infringement including reproduction, translation, transmission, republication, and distribution of this material without written permission of Komei Shimbun, the copyright holder, are prohibited.

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