About Carbon Dioxide Poisoning and SIDS
SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) is neither SUDDEN nor a DISEASE.
Read further to discover how much evidence points in one direction: healthy babies can easily die of carbon dioxide poisoning. They die from a lack of oxygen that is caused by the simple act of breathing.
A healthy baby can easily be placed in a situation where they are
breathing in a confined space that traps their breath. They are
essentially breathing the same air over and over - almost like being in
a plastic bag. With every breath, the oxygen content drops and the
carbon dioxide content increases. Gradually, there isn't enough oxygen
in that air to sustain them and they die without as much as a whimper.
The process is slow and this pamphlet includes a mathematical model that
shows what can happen.
It is not obvious that infants can be so vulnerable that their own breathing can kill them. We all take for granted that there is always enough oxygen in the air we breathe. This is why adults sometimes suffer the same consequences when they enter a confined space such as a tank. One family suffered the loss of a husband and two grown sons when the father collapsed while cleaning a septic tank. When the father was overcome the oldest son went in to rescue him and was also affected. His younger brother then went into that tank to rescue the other two. This kind of tragedy happens all too often.
The best way to prevent a pool of carbon dioxide (CO2) from forming around a baby is by providing air currents and eliminating any possible "dam" conditions.
Blankets, pillows, clothing, or even hats can create shallow "dams". Wide-open space around the baby is the best situation. Well meaning and caring people inadvertently create the "dams" as a means of protecting the precious infant that they so dearly love. It is unfortunate that this special care and concern can create the very conditions that can lead to the death of that infant.
There are usually air currents around every person. These are caused by body movements and by differences in temperature. When we are sleeping we breathe in air at ambient temperature, our bodies process that air, and because of our normal body heat (98.7 F) we exhale it at a slightly higher temperature. We all know that hot air rises; so our exhaled breath will tend to do the same. When the warm air that we exhale rises it is replaced with fresh air. So, under normal conditions the air around us is always being replaced.
Small infants are often wrapped in a blanket when they are put to sleep. This restricts their ability to create air currents by body movements. That leaves only the buoyant effect of their exhaled breath as a means of bringing fresh air to them. When they are put to sleep, they are often placed in quiet out of the way rooms. These rooms are often kept warmer than the rest of the house. All of these things set up a potential SIDS situation. If a room is warm then there is less of a buoyant force on the exhaled air. Carbon Dioxide is heavier than air and needs to be warmed to rise and be replaced. Being quiet and careful around the baby's room will also cut down on natural house air currents. The opening and closing of a door and walking into a room create air currents. Staying out of the baby's room when they are sleeping can be a fatal error.
Having a fan operating in the room when the baby is sleeping is a good way to create air currents. Frequently going into the room to check on the baby will also create air currents. Incubators are designed to provide laminar flow over the infants in them. Therefore it would be best to have similar situations wherever the baby is sleeping. So having a fan blowing directly onto a baby is not recommended. This could cause problems by itself. If a fan is used, it should be provide gentle air currents in the vicinity of the baby. Also, make sure that the baby is able to move, and not in a "nice warm and safe" hole that can create a stagnant air condition (an air dam). Frequent checking on the child during the first year may be an arduous task; however, the alternative can be devastating.
A child in a carriage out in the park on a winter day is perfectly safe. However, that same child placed in that carriage in a warm enclosed room is at risk. Outdoors, air currents and temperature differences circulate fresh air around the baby. Indoors, the lack of air currents and reduced temperature differences create a potentially dangerous situation for a baby.
Bumpers on the sides of a crib must be installed so that there is a gap between the bottom of the bumper and the top of the mattress. There have been cases where an infant has scooted into a corner of a crib and created a stagnant dam between their head and shoulder and a bumper. Two of these cases were for infants that were older than 4-months. One was nine months and the other was eleven months. The ultimate tragedy is that both of these infants were in the same family.
Loose blankets, cute stuffed animals, and toys should never be placed in a crib with an infant. It is all too easy for these items to work together with the geometry of the child to create a stagnant breathing volume. The smaller this volume is the quicker the infant slides away without a sound.
An overabundance of items in a playpen can also create a dangerous condition.
There is a lot of confusion about ventilation. Consider the case of a crew working in a manhole. Taking a fan and having it blow into the top of the manhole does NOT put any fresh air into that space. To replace air it is necessary to have a path for the air in the space to flow out of that space. This is why utility workers always shove that yellow hose into the hole they are going to enter. Fresh air goes in through the hose and the stagnant air comes out through the space around the outside of the hose.
Placing a fan inside the space to be refreshed is also a mistake. Such a fan will not blow any air out of that space unless there is a path for replacement air. Sometimes, even when there is a path, the stagnant air is not fully removed. This is why it is so important that an infant never be placed into a stagnant air space, or able to create one with their bodies and objects within their grasp. If you use a fan to circulate air, be sure there is a way for fresh air to enter the room and exhausted air to escape.
U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission:
National Sudden Infant Death Syndrome Resource Center:
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