Alarming Increase in SUID/SIDS Deaths

Kimberlee Hauff, MD
WCAAP Secretary
Swedish Pediatric Hospitalist

I have the honor of participating in the King County Child Death Review on behalf of WCAAP; and wanted to alert WCAAP members to a recent, significant increase in SUID/SIDS deaths identified in King County as well as in neighboring counties. The King County Death Review board consists of an amazing group of local leaders (school nurses, public health experts, social workers, police, medical examiners, psychiatrists, pediatricians, counselors, hospital representatives, to name a few) that meet regularly to review all preventable or accidental pediatric deaths in King County. It is very rare to be in a room with this many child advocates at once—all trying to dig deep and determine how we can do better.

A few stats to elucidate my sense of alarm:

  • King County had 9 SUID/SIDS cases in 2018; 13 cases in 2020; and has already (only 6 months into this year) seen 10 cases in 2021.
  • Snohomish County has already reported 7 cases in 2021; with a similar rise from the previous year.

If you spend a few moments, I think we can each devise several theories as to why this may have happened. I’m certain that COVID restrictions, isolation from family and childcare supports, and the emotional stress of the past 18 months plays a role. We also know that SUID/SIDS disproportionally affects Black, Latinx, American Indian, and Alaska Native babies. While there are thoughts as to cause (and some emerging research as to the possible why)—I’m asking for your help in prevention efforts.

We know that talking to families about safe sleep should be part of routine newborn care and that it does make a positive impact. Many families may endorse having a safe sleeping area for their baby; but may (with follow-up questioning) not actually be using it. It is our job, even during an on-going pandemic, to help solve any barriers a family may have to adhering to safe sleep recommendations. For some, safe sleep may also be a sensitive topic to broach with families who strongly prefer to co-sleep — akin to some discussions about vaccines or breastfeeding. I’m asking that you have those perhaps difficult conversations with families about how you can support them through the exhausting, exciting path of caring for a newborn to help reverse this alarming trend.

Additional resources:

AAP safe sleep recommendations

NIH: What does a safe sleep environment look like? Printable

NIH: Interactive safe sleep environment tool