The parents of a SIDS baby also become victims of the disease. Their grief and guilt may be overwhelming. Unlike parents whose baby was ill before dying, the parents of a SIDS baby have no warning or time to prepare emotionally for the loss of their child. Feelings of guilt and self-recrimination are normal first reactions. The parents immediately begin to wonder what they did or did not do to cause the death. But there has never been evidence that any special care, or lack of it, can prevent or contribute to a SIDS death.
The emotional trauma experienced by the family frequently results in the family's disintegration. Rates of divorce, substance abuse, and serious psychological problems are high in SIDS families. Fathers of SIDS babies may seek excuses not to be home, such as working longer hours. They tend to internalize their grief and may have difficulty talking about the baby and his or her death.
Mothers frequently wish to talk about their loss but have difficulty finding someone to talk to. They may undergo physical changes that are difficult to handle, especially if they were nursing the baby. While fathers may have a strong desire to "replace" the lost child, mothers may be less inclined to have another baby as soon as possible. In reaction to the SIDS death, both parents may become overly protective of their other or subsequent children.
The trauma suffered by other children in a family that has experienced a SIDS death -- or other caregivers, such as babysitters -- may go unrecognized as everyone concentrates on the parents' loss. Yet siblings may suffer from the loss and from guilt feelings, sometimes to the extent that psychological counseling is necessary.
Siblings old enough to have helped care for the baby would have established a special bond to the baby that makes their loss very real and very big. Also, they are apt to develop guilt feelings about what they might have done to cause the death, especially if they tended to the baby shortly before the death. Younger siblings, who probably experienced brief periods of jealousy when they wished the baby would go away, may have difficulty coping with a feeling that they somehow caused the baby's death.
In many areas of the United States, efforts have been expanded to help SIDS families. Some states now have SIDS projects, and all SIDS activities and counseling are available through these projects. In other states, SIDS activities and counseling are offered through state public health departments. Also, many parents of SIDS babies are active in self-help groups. Parents and others who have difficulty obtaining information about SIDS can contact the First Candle/SIDS Alliance, 1314 Bedford Avenue, Suite 210, Baltimore, MD 21208 (800-221-7437 or www.sidsalliance.org) for more information.
Remember that Sudden Infant Death Syndrome is not the fault of parents, and you should not take it out on yourself or anyone else. SIDS is a tragedy that even doctors cannot fully explain, and parents should not shoulder the weight of this unfortunate event themselves.
ABOUT THE CONSULTANTS
Alvin Eden, M.D. serves as a Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at the Weil Medical College of Cornell University in New York, New York. He is Chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at the Wyckoff Heights Medical Center in Brooklyn. Dr. Eden is also the author of a number of child care book, including Positive Parenting and Growing Up Thin.
Dr. Elizabeth Eden, M.D.
is a practicing obstetrician with her own private practice in New York City. She serves as an attending physician at the Tisch Hospital of the New York University Medical Center, as well as a Clinical Assistant Professor at the New York University School of Medicine.
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