Holiday Hangover: Alcohol Linked to SIDS Deaths

VIDEO: SIDS Rate Increases
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The New Year's Day hangover can be deadly for caregivers who have had a night of heavy drinking and awake to find a lifeless baby in the crib.

More than 2,500 babies a year die from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), and now researchers now say there may be an association between those deaths and alcohol.

A University of California study published this month in the journal "Addiction," found a 33 percent spike in SIDS deaths on Jan. 1.

Alcohol consumption is also at an all-time high during the holidays.

The study, conducted by sociologist David Phillips, concluded that alcohol was a risk factor for SIDS, although it is unclear whether alcohol is an independent risk or occurs only in conjunction with other known risks, such as co-sleeping with the baby.

It concludes that alcohol "impairs parental capacity," and therefore can put a child at risk.

Scientists took into account the normal increase in SIDS deaths that are reported during the winter months, probably because of colds and respiratory infections, as well as using coverings in the crib for warmth.

The study looked at 129,090 SIDS cases from 1973 to 2006 and also tracked alcohol-related motor vehicle accidents among the general population. Both were at an all-time high on New Year's Day.

In addition, the study showed another rise in SIDS deaths right after April 20, a day celebrated by pot smokers and after July 4, also a time of heavy alcohol use. Babies of mothers who drink are also twice as likely to die of SIDS, according to the study.

"It's logical that when women are inebriated the attentiveness to the child is going to be reduced and the likelihood of getting a child in the situation where a parent puts them at risk would be there," said Dr. Michael Malloy, a neonatologist at University of Texas Medical Branch.

But he cautioned that the study was "ecologic," or population-based, and therefore does not necessarily show a one-to-one relationship between alcohol use and SIDS deaths.

Still, he said the findings were not "unreasonable," given what doctors understand about SIDS and its association with other behaviors like smoking and alcohol use during pregnancy.

Each year more than 4,500 infants die suddenly of no obvious cause in the United States. About half of these events are due to SIDS, which is the leading cause of death among infants aged 1 to 12 months, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In the last decade, SIDS deaths have decreased more than 50 percent, but they are still disproportionately higher among non-Hispanic Black and American Indian/Alaska Native infants.

Before 1992, when parents were first told to put babies to sleep on their backs or sides, 11,000 babies a year died of SIDS.

SIDS is Leading Cause of Death Among Infants

This new study suggests there should be more investigation into the connection between alcohol and SIDS deaths, according to Betty McEntire, executive director of the American SIDS Institute, which focuses on research.

"We know there is a link, but not a real close link," she said. "The association between maternal drinking, binge drinking and SIDS probably occurs in pregnancy. We also know that SIDS happens in winter and the cooler months. People use cover more in the winter. Babies with colds also have higher rates of SIDS."

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