My niece's 3-month-old son died of SIDS while in daycare. I will never forget her pain or seeing that little body in the casket. It was one of the most horrible things I have ever had to endure. I cannot imagine the pain she has gone through.
Study after study since the early 80s has shown that accidental suffocation is likely the cause in the overwhelming majority of SIDS cases. The "Back to Sleep" program, as has already been mentioned, has reduced SIDS deaths considerably. But not as considerably among low-income households. Therefore, the campaign has been simplified to the "ABC" initative... "Alone. Back. Crib."
NPR just ran a lengthy story (7/15/11) titled "Rethinking SIDS: Many Deaths No Longer a Mystery." Listen to or read the story. There are also a number of excellent links to research, statistics, personal stories and a video of the new ABC message.
As a new mom who still panics over SIDS I am so grateful for the increase in education and research over this terrifying issue. As stated here, it is much more than just the way you position your baby (back or belly). Smoking in the home can also have a detrimental influence on babies. Also, there may also be some other health problems that the baby has that hasn't been detected yet and these health problems may put the baby at greater risk for SIDS.
My husband and I wanted our baby to be able to sleep on her back, but she hated it and would gag and spit up. In order for any of us to sleep, we had to put her on her stomach. We were very upset, but our pediatrician confirmed some of what I had been reading, which is basically that there is no one single cause of SIDS.
The bedding in the baby's crib is extremely important. As much as I want to put a blanket on her, I don't. I keep her crib clear of just about everything that I think could potentially cause a problem.
I think this is an encouraging statistic that we can look at to demonstrate the way that we are slowly becoming more and more aware of what babies need and how we should be looking after them, especially in their early years. Other editors have stressed the role that education has played in this statistic, and I think this is correct. We now know a lot more about babies and their needs and also how SIDS operates, and therefore can work to prevent it.
A factor in the reduction that some pinpoint is the awareness of and avoidance of toxic chemicals in baby room decoration, furniture, bedding and clothing. It is yet to be seen how the various factors interact with each other.
I would echo other sentiments on the board here as far as increased awareness and education as to how to properly care for sleeping infants and what possible causes of SIDS might be. The same thing happened after an increase in AIDS education--we had a marked decrease (at least for a while) in the number of infections.
Information about SIDS is now widely dispersed, is all over the internet, and is usually a part of pre-natal care and training for expectant mothers.
I agree with post 4 that the main reason for the decrease is education. As a mother to a one year old, I can tell you that I heard and read so much about SIDS. This is a feature topic in every baby book I read. It was a constant discussion topic in the child birthing classes. Everything written or designed for parents of young children looks at this topic.
Many new products are also available on the market which help reduce the occurance of SIDS by removing some of the previously used culptrits. Someone mentioned the sleep sacks, but they also make velco closure swaddles for newborns. Our son loved to be swaddled when we put him to sleep, but he could wiggle out of a regular blanket. That leaves the blanket loose around him in the crib. Now, they have a special wrap that closes securely with velcro. The child stays swaddled and there are no loose blankets to leave behind.
Parents are more educated about caring for infants, and doctors frankly know more than they did. This has resulted in a marked decrese in Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Advances in medicine have also resulted in fewer unknown infant deaths.
Perhaps, like many other problems which are lesser in significance today, is education. Parents are learning more about how to prevent deaths such as SIDS from happening. Given the dramatic rise in decades before, doctors and scientists alike tried to find ways to lessen the number of cases. Like any other outbreak in the medical world, when cases seem to skyrocket or begin to be diagnosed better, the education of the preventative matter becomes very important.
It's important to mention a few other significant reasons as well: the removal of all soft bedding and the addition of "sleep-sacks."
Along with the "Back to Sleep" program, ... parents were well-educated on other ways to keep excess carbon dioxide from entering the baby's lungs. Removing all pillows, blankets, burp cloths, quilts, crib bumpers, soft mattresses, even quilted sheets helped in this arena. All of those things could gather around a child's face and increase the intake of carbon dioxide.
Next, firm crib mattresses that fit tightly and sheets pulled taught must also be mentioned. That little gap of an ill-fitting crib mattress or that little fold of a regular sheet, positioned perfectly by a baby's nose/mouth could cause a problem. No gaps between the mattress and the crib! Sheets pulled tight as a rubber band!
A new product that appeared on the scene to encourage the removal of soft bedding was something called the "sleep-sack." (My child, who is now 4, STILL wears one in the winter!) It is simply a zip-up sack that takes the place of a blanket, ... a piece of "clothing" that has no change of gathering around a child's mouth and nose. Obviously, when one is instructed not to cover one's child with a blanket, ... the worry of the babe being cold appears. The sleep sack is the answer to that worry.
Because there is no one specific identified cause of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, there are a number of theories as to the reasons for the deaths attributed to the Syndrome - and a variety of theories as to why that number has decreased.
1992 was the year when the American Academy of Pediatrics began recommending the "Back to Bed" practice of positioning newborn infants on their backs in the crib. This positioning may be one significant reason for the decrease in deaths. One of the concerns about allowing babies to sleep on their stomachs was that they may be inhaling the air they just exhaled, which would have a high concentration of carbon dioxide in it. If the baby is unable to arouse and move itself away from this concentration, that could prove fatal.