Thursday, April 4, 2013

Preventing SIDS, AKA "Cot Death"

If you are like me, you probably grew up believing that Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is an unpredictable and unpreventable event during which infants under 1 year of age appear to randomly die without explanation, usually in a crib, bassinet, playpen, or somewhere they sleep. As it turns out, it isn't unpredictable, unexplained or unpreventable, and it certainly isn't a syndrome. If you know someone who has lost a child to SIDS, then you understand what a tragedy it is that this information isn't readily available to the American public. is a site dedicated to educating parents about SIDS, because it is 100% preventable. I am going to sum up what I have learned, but a great read for more information would be Dancing Cats, Silent Canaries by Dr. David Denton Davis. I started looking for information about SIDS when I was pregnant and curious about everything, and I was very surprised by what I found, and what is not necessarily public knowledge yet.

  • Use a mattress that is entirely 100% organic cotton, inside and out with absolutely no additives or waterproof layer, OR Cover your existing mattress with a Serendipity cover. Follow the directions.
  • Use only 100% cotton (untreated) for all crib bedding and sleepwear.  No stuffed animals, pillows, mattress pads (not even waterproof ones) comforters that contain anything other than 100% cotton.
  • Use laundry soap that does not contain phosphates, petrochemicals and perfumes.
What causes SIDS/Cot death? 
Basically, it has to be an exact combination of common contributing factors, much like the Perfect Storm.
  1. PVC and other chemicals  Mattresses generally contain some level of toxic chemicals including arsenic, phosphorus and antimony because of the PVC they are covered with - particularly baby mattresses. So the first contributing factor is PVC or these, and perhaps other, chemicals. Did you ever think it was strange that SIDS doesn't exist in countries where modern mattresses aren't used? Fire retardants also contain chemicals that should raise concerns.
  2. Fungus Household fungus (mold and mildew) feeds on chemicals (including those found in PVC) and converts them into very toxic gas - "highly toxic nerve agents".  ( The gases are more dense than the air, so they hover below the air, close to the mattress. This is why having a baby sleep on his or her back can help prevent SIDS (on a non-protected mattress), because the baby will hopefully breathe more fresh air than being face down in poisonous gases. You can imagine what a traditional bumper pad can do, containing all of the gases in the crib instead of letting them fall to the floor. Older mattresses often contain both PVC and fungus, which is a deadly combination. Used/second-hand mattresses are more likely to contain fungus already, and are therefore a higher risk.
  3. Heat and moisture Heat and moisture are the factors that accentuate all others because they  increases the activity of the fungus. When the baby is over-wrapped or has a fever (which can
    be a result of vaccinations), the fungus in the mattress pumps out more gases. More SIDS deaths happen in winter because babies are more likely to be over-wrapped and houses are generally buttoned-up tight, so there is minimal ventilation and air flow, which means that the gases don't get drawn out of the crib.
  4. A weak immune system Babies under one year are generally the victims of SIDS, because their immune systems can't handle the toxic gases like an older child or adult can. Most babies that die from SIDS are under 6-months-old - most likely because they are too young to wake up/sit up/stand up and cry when they don't feel well.

What's the deal with the mattress cover thingy?
Serendipity Mattress Covers were specifically made to be gas-impermeable. It feels and looks like a clear, heavy-duty plastic bag with a slit along the bottom. Gases and moisture cannot get through a Serendipity Mattress Cover, which means that even if all of the contributing factors coincide and gases are released, they can't get through to baby and baby's moisture won't be further activating the fungus. Baby is therefore safe. These covers have been in production for well over 10 years in New Zealand, which historically has had one of the highest death rates from SIDS. There have been NO deaths on a properly-covered mattress so far, regardless of whether the baby was sleeping on his or her back or front. There is now a law in New Zealand that requires all day care centers to cover their mattresses, and there have been no more cases of SIDS at day care centers there to date.

Personal experiences
We decided that it was worth the $30 to purchase the Serendipity Mattress Cover from to have the peace of mind that SIDS couldn't be an issue for us. Our cradle mattress was new and completely organic cotton, so that is safe anyway. Our crib mattress was new, but not organic cotton. We actually bought this crib mattress. The cover was simple to use, and the directions were very clear. Basically, you slide a clean, dry mattress into the slit in the Serendipity cover so that the slit will be on the bottom for ventilation. Then you fold the ends of the cover in toward the slit and use the sticky strips to keep them there. You want it to be tightly covering the mattress. We use a 100% cotton towel over the Serendipity cover, which pads it a little and cuts down on the "plastic crinkle" and then a 100% cotton fitted sheet over that. I find that it is easiest to put on sheets before putting the mattress down into the crib. Also, because moisture can't get through the Serendipity Mattress Cover, there is no need for a waterproof mattress pad because the cover itself can be wiped clean if accidents occur.  We used 100% cotton flannel receiving blankets around our daughter to make her feel cozier - like she was being held. When our daughter was young, we followed the directions exactly. She prefers to sleep on her stomach. When she could pull herself up on the side of the crib, I made the decision to allow her to wear fleece to bed because it was so cold and she would frequently crawl out from under her covers, but that strongly discouraged on You will need to make that decision for yourself. Our daughter sleeps best when it is chilly, so we purposely keep her room cool. She has a tiny down comforter that she uses as well for warmth, which is also not recommended. We also chose to purchase and use a breathable mesh bumper pad made of polyester, which is not ideal and not recommended by the but was necessary to keep my daughter from getting her arms and legs stuck out the sides between the slats in her sleep. Our daughter is particularly sturdy and almost a year old, so I am not very concerned at this point. I send the link to the No More SIDS Foundation website to expectant parents that I know, and I encourage you to do so as well.

I would highly recommend making the investment for your own baby, if not the babies of people you know. There are an average of 6 deaths every 24 hours because of SIDS/Cot death, which is an absolute travesty when prevention is so easy, but those $30 covers can be expensive for many families. The No More SIDS Foundation has an area of their website for donations, if you are interested in contributing. I personally believe that spreading awareness is very important.  Please understand that this post is intended to share information, not to accuse anyone of being a bad parent or make you feel guilty in any way if you have lost a baby to SIDS.

It is important to note that we purchased the Serendipity mattress cover ourselves
and that I did not receive any compensation for this post whatsoever.


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