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  • Sudden Unexplained Death In Childhood: How Parents Can Respond

    Parents have control over safety measures that can prevent sudden death or even accidents in kids.
    by Kitty Elicay .
Sudden Unexplained Death In Childhood: How Parents Can Respond
PHOTO BY Shutterstock/ucchie79
  • Last month, parents were saddened and alarmed when one mom shared the heartbreaking story of how her toddler died while sleeping. It shed light to a rare disease called Sudden Unexplained Death in Childhood (SUDC).

    What is Sudden Unexplained Death in Childhood?

    We’ve heard of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or SIDS, which is the unexplained death of an otherwise healthy baby during sleep. It mostly occurs in infants younger than 1 year old.

    “SIDS are usually cases of death which are non-preventable and do not have any external factors. This is the same for SUDC, there are no clear external factors that may have caused the child’s death,” explains Ria Campos Lopez, a certified sleep consultant and positive parenting specialist from Stratum Health Partners, to SmartParenting.com.ph.

    SUDC is a risk for children 1 to 4 years old. According to RareDiseases.org, SUDC “cannot be predicted or prevented at this time.” However, nearly all children with SUDC were “thought to be sleeping before becoming unresponsive.”

    “SUDC is a diagnosis meant for cases that have been thoroughly investigated with an autopsy report and, as the name suggests, the cause cannot be established with the available means. Strictly speaking, there is no data at the moment to suggest how we can predict or prevent this condition,” adds pediatric specialist Dr. Faith Alcazaren-Buenaventura.

    Safe sleep guidelines for toddlers

    While SUDC is unpredictable, moms and dads still have control over safety measures that can prevent sudden death or even accidents, especially when your toddler is sleeping. With the help of experts at Stratum Health Partners — Ms. Lopez, Dr. Alcazaren-Buenaventura and Dr. Jamie Isip-Cumpas, a pediatrician and international certified breastfeeding counselor — here are some practices that parents can adopt for their kids:


    1. Create a safe sleep space for your child.

    Lopez stresses the need to prevent suffocation risks for toddlers, so the same principles for baby’s safe sleep should also apply when they’re older.

    “We want the toddler to be in the safe sleep space. This can be a crib or a playpen up until the age of 3. We want to use a firm toddler or baby mattress with a tight-fitting sheet. No blankets, pillows, loose items or other beddings in the crib.” shares Lopez.

    2. Child-proof your home.

    A curious toddler would want to explore the world around them, so always pay close attention.

    “If the child has transitioned to a floor bed or toddler bed, then the whole room is to be treated as a crib—child proofed, nothing the child can climb on and all heavy furniture that can fall on the child should be anchored to the walls,” says Lopez.

    “Make sure the child cannot leave the room with a gate or there is no access outside of the room to other hazards like the stairs or the kitchen,” she adds.

    Toys should also be appropriate for their age — no small, loose parts that can be considered as choking hazards.

    3. Let them breastfeed on their side.

    If your toddler is still breastfeeding, ensure that they’re nursing on their side. Then, transfer them to a safe sleep space should they fall asleep.

    Lopez points out that falling asleep while breastfeeding is not the problem, “but the way the child sleeps after. It is not safe to leave them on the breastfeeding pillow or on the adult bed,” she says.

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    If your child feeds through a bottle, Dr. Isip-Cumpas says they should never do this while lying down on their backs. “This could be a risk for aspiration and ear infections,” she explains. “Instead, babies should be cradled in a semi-upright position while supporting the back and head.”

    Ideally, you’d want to let your child stop bottle feeding before they even reach 18 months, according to Dr. Isip-Cumpas. Instead, offer them milk in a cup. “Also, never leave children bottle feeding on their own,” she says.

    4. Take note of your child’s developmental milestones.

    Childproofing go hand-in-hand with knowing your child’s developmental milestones. This is the key to setting up a safe environment, according to Dr. Alcazaren-Buenaventura.

    “For example, head control and the ability to roll over develops from 3 to 5 months old, which puts the child at risk for bed falls. At 4 to 6 months, an infant learns to pull and grasp, which puts baby at risk for scald injuries from hot coffee or soup at the dining table.

    “Curious crawlers can easily place their tiny fingers through electrical sockets and confident toddlers can jump from high places or even ingest items that can cause choking,” she explains.

    Dr. Alcazaren-Buenaventura reminds, “It would be good for parents to review these milestones as the child grows and discuss with their pediatricians what measures they can take to keep the child’s environment safe at a certain age.”

    5. Don’t be complacent.

    While your toddler may have better control of their body, you still need to keep careful watch, even when they are sleeping. Lopez, whose children are aged 2 and 4, still sleep on firm, floor mattresses. They avoid memory foam or soft bed and do not have pillows or blankets yet.


    “There are no clear guidelines for safe sleep for babies over one year, so sometimes at this age, parents transfer the child to the bed or give them pillows and blankets. It would be prudent to say safety first and not introduce these items until the child is at least 2 years old,” she says.

    For more information on Stratum Health Partners, visit their website at www.stratumbaby.com.

    Have a newborn? Read how to reduce the risk of SIDS here.

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