July 15, 2009

19th century infanticide most likely SIDS

Nineteen century infant deaths attributed to smothering and overlaying were in all likelihood Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, a U.S. researcher said.

Dr. Ariane Kemkes, an independent researcher in Scottsdale, Ariz., said these deaths would have been mislabeled by lawmakers as neglect and even infanticide, because SIDS had not yet been identified.

SIDS is the third most prominent cause of death among infants under age 1, accounting for 30 percent to 55 percent of infant deaths during their first year, Kemkes said.

Historically, the unanticipated death of an apparently healthy baby during nighttime sleep would have been rationalized as accidental smothering or overlaying. Lawmakers attributed smothering deaths to negligent caretakers and characterized infant-adult bed-sharing practices as proof of parental incompetence, Kemkes said.

Kemkes analyzed data from the U.S. Federal Mortality Schedule from 1850-1880 and found that smothering and overlaying deaths occurred primarily during the second to fourth month of the baby's life, were more likely in the late winter months and amongst boys and there were more infant deaths among black babies -- the same factors that appear with SIDS.

The study strongly supports the hypothesis that these infant deaths represent empirical evidence of 19th century SIDS mortality, Kemkes said.

The findings were published online in the journal Human Ecology.