SIDS may be the single most alarming thing in all the quasi-medical parenting literature: Dear New Parent: Please keep an eye out for this affliction; we don't know where it comes from or why it happens, but the symptom is, when you check your baby in the crib, the baby is dead. Sleep tight, everyone!
What makes it even more disturbing is that, because nobody can quite say how SIDS works, the expert advice on the subject sounds suspiciously like magical thinking. And the closer medical science moves toward witchcraft, the more authoritative a tone it tends to take. SIDS is not suffocation--but please don't put your baby to bed with thick blankets or quilts! No, not because the baby might suffocate. This is not suffocation! And don't give your baby a pillow or a stuffed animal. But again, it's not suffocation we're worried about! It's SIDS, which is totally different. It's a specific medical condition, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. That's medical terminology, right there. We don't know what causes SIDS. But we're pretty sure it's more likely to happen if you give the child soft bedding and a warm bedroom. And for God's sake, don't let the baby sleep face-down. We won't tell you that sleeping face-down causes SIDS (because we don't know what causes SIDS), but we're pretty sure that not sleeping face-down contributes to not getting SIDS. Do bear this in mind--if you don't avoid your baby getting SIDS, your baby might die!
So basically the American Academy of Pediatrics ends up recommending that if you must put your infant down to sleep at all, you should put it down to sleep in a 60-degree room, face-up on a sheet of unvarnished three-quarter-inch plywood. All those nice soft blankets and crib bumpers your relatives gave you? They were trying to kill your baby.
(Perhaps in a lull between studies about which kind of teddy bear is most likely to kill your baby through not-suffocation, some pediatric epidemiologist might check into the relative timing of the mid-'90s Back to Sleep anti-SIDS campaign and the much-discussed mid-'90s spike in autism. Doctors urge parents to stop infants from sleeping in the most restful position, and young children begin to be diagnosed with cognitive defects at ever-higher levels. Not that correlation is causation! And most of us would certainly rather have an autistic baby than a dead one. It's probably nothing. Bad Thought. Forget about it.)
Anyway, this week, the SIDS experts have a new piece of insight into how to prevent your baby from dying of non-suffocation: electric fans.
Sleeping in a room with a fan lowers a baby's risk of sudden infant death syndrome by 72 percent, a new study has found.
I love electric fans. But this is not so good--the story then goes on to say that the results were "not statistically significant" for babies who were already sleeping in doctor-approved sleeping environments. And the real scientific gem for the concerned parent is here:
Parents who worry that their child will be chilled by a fan should know that fans do not cool the air; they just move air around. A baby will feel a chill only if he or she is perspiring, doctors say.