Sunday, 3 July 2011

Cot Death

On me back, John!
As the birth of young Marty loomed Leanne began preparing the surveillance apparatus we would require to ensure Marty’s survival in the rough and tumble world of the nursery. Apparently we would need a movement monitor, definitely a sound monitor and most probably a CCTV video camera. I dare say that, if left to her own devices, Leanne would have added armed guards, watch towers, an air ambulance on permanent stand-by and a dedicated hot line to the local A&E.
And why were we doing all of this? Because of ‘Cot death’, or ‘SIDS’ as they prefer to call it these days.
To be honest this is something I’d rather just ignore and pretend isn’t real but the sad reality is that a small number of babies die each year and no one really knows why. Rather than just say “Sorry we really haven’t the foggiest idea” doctors feel obliged to give the unknown a name “Sudden infant death syndrome”, for example, and then spend decades coming out with conflicting advice on what to do and not do about something that they may, or may not, know anything about. Of course the media then get in on the act, confusing and misrepresenting facts as the feeling takes them, until every parent in the land is thoroughly terrified.
We really did try to fight the paranoia that this all brings but we still ended up with a motion monitor that, quite literally, listens to every breath young Marty breathes and flashes up a cheerfully green light every time he makes the slightest of movements.
All the talk around SIDS really annoys me. You hear people talking about it as if they know what it is. They don’t! By definition it’s the death of an infant by an unknown means. Even giving it a name is misleading in that it implies that there is a single condition with a single cause, which is almost certainly not the case. Another problem is that most of the advice comes from ‘observation’ rather than experimentation; they observe that children sleeping on their backs don’t die from unknown causes as often as children sleeping on their front so the advice goes out that all children should now sleep on their backs.
At first sight this seems sane advice but it isn’t. For example, here’s another observation: “People with coughs are far more likely to die in a domestic fire.” This is a fact. So what do you do? Do you start taking cough medicine before you go to sleep at night? Do you fill your home with throat calming sprays and balms? No doubt this is the advice the media would be giving us if armed with our little "fact". But they'd be wrong, not because our observation is wrong, it isn't, but because what we observed is not a cause, it's an effect. The truth is that people who cough all the time invariably do so because they smoke and wandering around your home with a naked flame grasped in your hand increases the odds of you starting a lethal fire. The sane advice is to stop smoking but that wasn’t what was observed so that’s not the advice given.
According to the statisticians, the chances of your baby dying of SIDS is far greater if you are a young mother who is skint and hasn’t got a qualification to her name. This is a statistical fact and is utter bollocks because being poor and not having a GCSE (or whatever they call them these days) does not increase the risk of SIDS. However, bringing your child up in a small, unhealthy, damp ridden house probably does, and guess who lives in such places? Yup, young, poor mothers with little education.
Of course some people will point out that when New Zealand started asking all mothers to put their babies to sleep on their backs, the incidence of SIDS went down. This is true, but then it was going down before they started to put babies on their backs.
A comparison comes from the plumbing & heating industry. When ‘Corgi’ came into force to regulate gas engineers, deaths due to faulty gas appliances dropped dramatically; ergo Corgi saved lives! Well you might be right, but you probably aren’t. Corgi came into being at much the same time as room-sealed boilers hit the market. These are 1000’s of times safer than the old boilers and it is almost certainly this innovation that caused the dramatic drop off in gas related deaths.
The same may well be true with putting babies on their backs, in that poor mattresses might have been the root cause and changes in the design and the materials they were made from meant that the incidence of SIDS was already dropping.
Finally, the problem with putting babies on their backs is that they really don’t like it. They sleep less and they don’t sleep as well. As a result early development is slower when compared to babies who sleep on their fronts. So how did the medical fraternity choose to tackle this fact? Well the choice was to tell the majority of parents who listened to your advice that their child was now developmentally retarded... or just redefine normal! So that's what they did; “normal” development is now slower than it used to be and what were once regarded as “normal” babies sleeping on their fronts are now considered “advanced”! I kid you not!
So at the end of all this we’re left knowing as little about what to do and not to do as we were when we started. And why am I wittering on about all of this? Well, last week, at 4am the monitoring device keeping an eye on Marty went off and the alarm started screaming out through the night.
Leanne leapt out of bed and then spent what seemed like half an hour trying to turn the bedroom light on - although it was probably no more than 10 seconds. Having done that she stood frozen at the foot of the cot whilst I yelled “Poke him! Poke him!”
Fortunately, before we were both wholly over run with panic, Marty farted, said “Ooooh” and kicked a leg out and from this we figured that he was probably still alive.
What had happened was that he’d managed to work his way to the very top of the cot and then turn himself around so he was sideways to the cot itself. This meant he was no longer lying on the monitor and so the alarm sounded.
When I asked Leanne why she froze she replied that she hadn’t froze, she was merely trying to figure out how to check that he wasn’t dead without waking him up!