Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Cure for SIDS?

SIDS: Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

Terrifying to any parent, the concept that you can put your baby down to sleep and return to find them dead. Apparently without cause. Why does this happen? Why does it seem to happen to some people and not others? What variables are involved? And, the most important question, what can we do to prevent it?

A chemist from New Zealand believes he has found the answer and has been trying to get the word out over the course of the last 10 years. My neighbor had sent me a note about it and today, a video link. I was curious and started having a look through his material on his website. I have to tell you, even if the industry is not willing to accept his theory, his research or the outcome of his testing, I think that I am. At the very least, mattress wrapping (his suggestion) can do no harm. If the chemistry he has suggested is correct, then it is worth the nominal amount of money to wrap the mattress and ensure - even if it's just a tiny bit - a small amount of relief in the mind of a parent.

Here is the note:
The standard counsel is that we put infants to bed on their backs, a strategy that has reduced the number of SIDS deaths by 50 %, but beyond this point, this is more or less all we as parents can do. We just have to hope that our child makes it through to their first birthday when we can stop worrying about SIDS. However, I have come across the very convincing work of a scientist in New Zealand who claims to understand what exactly causes SIDS, and therefore can prevent it.

Dr. TJ Sprott is a forensic chemist in New Zealand. His basic theory (along with that of a British scientist Barry Richardson) is that the mixture of a fungus found in the fluids from a baby, i.e. drool, spit-up (very likely Scopulariopsis brevicaulis) plus the elements arsenic, antimony, and phosphorous (commonly found in baby mattresses and synthetic materials), creates toxic gases that subsequently poisons the baby. He recommends a strict but simple protocol to eliminate the possibility of this happening. Part one is to wrap the baby's mattress in a special barrier mattress cover free of these elements, and part two is to eliminate all bedding that isn't 100% cotton. (There are more specifics than this, but that's the basic idea).

Now, I found this information on the web, and like most seemingly sensational claims on the web, I expected it to not be true and that a google search would turn up hits from people explaining why this guy was wrong. But I have yet to find anything that counters his arguments. As I dug deeper, it became more and more convincing.

Dr. Sprott runs a non-profit organization in New Zealand dedicated to raising awareness about this issue and to distribute these mattress covers. The website is The organization started a push to wrap all baby mattresses in New Zealand starting in 1995. I've attached a file with the (official NZ government) statistics that he sent me and you can see for yourself. NZ has seen a 70 - 85% reduction in SIDS cases (depending on native vs. non-native peoples) since this campaign began, with no other nation-wide change of habits explaining the reduction. But here's the kicker--not one SIDS death has been reported on a properly wrapped mattress. (That's a heckuva lot better than 50 % reduction from the Back to Sleep campaign).

I showed this information to my father-in-law, a physical organic chemist, who I expected to eagerly jump on any holes in this guy's chemistry (there are lots of supporting journal articles at the website). He had questions, and emailed Dr. Sprott, who subsequently wrote him back with satisfactory explanations. Now my father-in-law seems to be as amazed as I am that Dr. Sprott's work isn't more widely publicized. Parents deserve to at least be aware of this.

Now what about money? This guy must be making a mint selling all these mattress covers, right? I wrote him an email, asking about the financial compensation he gets. He said he declined any royalty on the mattress covers in order to make them as economical as possible. He has written a book about his work, but again declined a royalty on it. Furthermore, this guy told me he has sunk $400,000 of his own
money into this cause.

There is much more information of interest to this topic--I am glossing over many of the details. The website mentioned above has all the specifics including the exact protocol to follow, lots of evidence to support Dr. Sprott's theory including scientific articles, statistics, commonly asked questions, how to purchase a mattress cover, etc. The mattress covers cost $30, btw, including shipping from New Zealand.

Why haven't we heard more about this? The medical establishment and other forces in New Zealand as well as here in the USA have fought him tooth and nail. My guess is no one wants to stake a claim on something having to do with a child's life lest they be sued if something goes wrong. Especially if we eventually agree that all the synthetic materials and fire-retardant treatments we've been using for baby bedding is what causes SIDS.

I'm not saying this is definitely the answer. [snip] In my mind, worst case is that i'm out $60 [for a playpen and a crib]. Best case is that I may have avoided SIDS.

At any rate, I feel this theory deserves much greater awareness, so I would encourage you to visit the website and read up on the topic.
Still with me? I know that was a lot to take in.

There are no certainties in this life, we are told, other than Death and Taxes. However, considering the increases in things like cancers, asthma, allergies and Alzheimer's, I'd be willing to hazard a guess that by steeping the mattresses our children sleep on in fire retardant chemicals it is probably not the safest thing we could do. (Not to mention pesticides coating the foods we eat - but that's a rant for another day.)

I guess I'll be ordering a pair of those mattress covers myself.

For those of you that are thinking that we've done just fine without such things previously, you are correct. Caitlin's mattress wasn't wrapped and she survived her infancy. That is no guarantee that the twins will. It's also the same logic that is all over those emails that scoff at how paranoid parents are these days: We didn't have car seats and we survived!

While this is true (the lack of car seats in the 70s and yet I and all my siblings survived driving with my parents who never wore their seat belts), I would suggest that we were lucky. There is no lack of data on number of childhood fatalities prior to the introduction of car seats or the requirement for seat belt use. This is a fascinating read.

Remember: people also used to think that smoking was good for your health. Look at how that turned out!


Red Flashlight said...

Years ago (1998 or so) a series of doctors attempted to diagnose me with Multiple Sclerosis. I declined the diagnosis, in part because most of them said things like "you're going to get sick and probably die," and "you should quit your job and move in with your mother," and "you'd better take these very expensive experimental drugs which will make you seriously ill but might cut your chances of an attack by 30%."

Of course I then did tons of research into M.S. and the options for treatment. M.S. generates lots of theories, lots of denials from the Grumpy Western Medical Conglomerate, Inc., and lots of researchers begging for money.

A common theme in the alternative medicine world, regardless of the particular illness one is attempting to treat, is this: SYNTHETIC FABRIC CAUSES ILLNESS. Don't let it touch your skin and don't breathe its fumes.

So you can imagine my non-surprise at reading yet again that synthetic fabrics have been linked with illness and death.

What, you ask, are synthetic fabrics made out of? Much of the time they're made from . . . a shocker . . . oil. Not the kind you get from a plant, but the kind you pump out of the ground, using an oil rig.

Woman with a Hatchet said...


I hope one day all of this stuff will get resolved and the Mighty Conglomerates will be shown to have stood in the way of the health of so many people and will be taken down.

I suspect I may not live to see that day, though.

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