Chapter 1: Introduction

Even with the great deal of research that has already been completed to this point on SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, also known as “crib deaths”), the medical profession has yet to declare the cause of SIDS. Countless organizations, institutions, groups and individuals across many countries have been working for many years on the cause of SIDS and initiating measures and programs to promote its prevention (such as the Back to Sleep Program). Their generosity, dedication, and hard work have netted a great deal of valuable information about these tragic events, and because of this the incidence of SIDS has continued to decline significantly. Yet surprisingly the cause of SIDS is still considered and declared as an unknown. 

This is where I disagree. Many of the suspected causes or statistics seem to point in different directions, be they such considerations as the breathing control system in the brain (the arcuate nucleus), the switch from fetal to normal hemoglobin, genetic factors, immunization, smoking, and the like.   However, I believe that these all point to one cause, as I will elaborate in some detail. 

I believe that enough information is known at this time to declare that the dominant cause of any SIDS death to be that of “depleted rebreathing”.  Simply, if depleted rebreathing did not occur, then it was not a SIDS death. While many would agree that depleted rebreathing is a prime suspect in some cases, they would argue that it is not suspect in all cases, and therefore cannot be considered as the underlying cause of SIDS. I believe that depleted rebreathing is the cause in all cases, and in what follows I will explain how I believe this could possibly be the case.

Consider for the moment that recently it has been recommended by health and child professionals around the world that infants be placed on their backs for sleeping for up to about the age of one year old (the Back to Sleep Program). It has generally been concluded that when a physical situation occurs whereby a child’s mouth and/or nose is faced into their bedding or soft toy restricting air flow, depleted rebreathing can occur. It is generally agreed that this rebreathing causes complications to the infant that may result in a SIDS death. Placing an infant on their backs will prevent the child’s mouth and/or nose being faced into their bedding, which in turn avoids depleted rebreathing, and as a consequence, avoids a SIDS death. When we consider that avoiding this depleted rebreathing in these case has led to a reduction in the incidence of SIDS by as much as 50% (saving thousands of lives each year), we must come to the conclusion that depleted rebreathing has played a significant and central role in SIDS deaths. You may be asking how depleted rebreathing can always play a role when some infants suffer SIDS while on their backs with no obstructions to the nose or mouth. Well, I believe that rebreathing can take place even when a child is awake and sitting, although more rare.

How the end result of depleted rebreathing leads to a SIDS death is still not fully understood, although lack of oxygen (and/or excess carbon dioxide) is generally considered to play the significant part. However, we don’t need to know the full process by which depleted rebreathing proceeds to a SIDS death. As long as steps are taken to avoid depleted rebreathing in the first place, we will be, in effect, taking steps to avoid SIDS deaths. We may not know all the circumstances that can lead to depleted rebreathing, but by understanding how depleted rebreathing can take place and following practices that reduce or avoid the occurrence of depleted rebreathing (such as, the Back to Sleep program) the reduction of SIDS deaths should be achieved. Much of what is written here concerns the understanding of depleted rebreathing and knowledge of how to avoid it. I will recommend certain practices that parents, always with their consultation with their doctor, might follow to reduce the possibility that depleted rebreathing occurs, and therefore reduce the possibility of harm to their child.

In what follows I will explain what rebreathing is (healthy or depleted), how it can occur, and how it could possibly occur in every case of SIDS deaths. Most significantly to my work here, I will also hypothesize that the result of any incidence of depleted rebreathing can have other outcomes other than death, which is the result in SIDS cases. These other outcomes for the most part are learning disabilities and other exceptionalities involving learning and thinking. What I am suggesting here is that should a depleted rebreathing event be interrupted before it has gone on long enough to result in a SIDS death, the infant will survive but with other negative results, such as learning disabilities or autism.

This writing is intended for two main audiences. The first is parents, those considering becoming parents, and any person that may be placed with the responsibility of looking after an infant in their first year. I believe that they are the key to reducing the incidence of SIDS, and as I will explain, they are the means by which we can reduce the incidence of other (thinking/learning) disorders. I believe that the knowledge and practices of these individuals as they care for newborns is essential to improving the record of SIDS and these other learning disorders. Caregivers already have begun the practice of having their newborns sleep on their backs and this has significantly reduced the incidence of SIDS. I believe that this practice has also lead to a reduction in those other disabilities that I have mention. Yet there is more that parents can do to protect their infants and make them safe for a healthy future. Understanding how depleted rebreathing can take place in other situations and understanding how to avoid this taking place by putting in place protective practices will significantly reduce these tragedies which are often avoidable. These individuals play the central role in making this happen.

The other audience to which I wish to speak is students, doctors and researchers. At times, with any inquiry, the possible avenues of new research run a bit stale. I hope that the suggestions I make here will stimulate a number of very educated professionals to dig deeper into this area of research, even if it is to prove me wrong. I believe that the suggestion that depleted rebreathing may be the cause of SIDS in every case and the cause of many other disorders other than SIDS is a plausible argument, and that understanding the causes of these other exceptionalities is an important step to their understanding, reduction and treatment.

My interest, of course like others, is helping babies grow up to be healthy and happy with an intellectual ability to succeed. Who wouldn’t be? But I have a deeper curiosity. As a classroom teacher and special education teacher, I am amazed at the diversity of the intellectual capacity of children. Some learn so easily and naturally, while others, not only have difficulty learning, but seem to even resist learning. Why is that? At times this can be explained through genetics; while at other times may be explained through upbringing, those practices of parents that fashion a child’s personality: their motivation, drive, curiosity, etc. But much remains unexplained. So often students can be found who have extreme difficulties with their learning, despite coming from very intelligent, successful, and caring parents. At other times we see children achieve very intellectually demanding and successful careers, coming from parents who themselves had little education, or whose marriages have failed and gave their child little or no support. I believe, as do others, that the spectrum of learning disabilities lies at the root of this issue. For the most part, the cause of learning disabilities (exceptionalities such as: ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), Autism, Tourette’s Syndrome, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and epilepsy, just to name a few) remain unexplained. However, I believe that there is a connection to SIDS through depleted rebreathing, as I will explain.

In what follows I will be discussing what depleted rebreathing is, what can or may lead to its occurrence, and how it can result in SIDS deaths or exceptionalities. Knowing these facts, I will be suggesting practices, all of which will be common sense without any threat to the child, and which can minimize the risk and occurrences of SIDS. But significantly, I will discuss what are the other possible disorders or syndromes that may also be the result of depelted rebreathing. Considering these theories, I will suggest possible studies or researches that may or may not reinforce these plausible ideas.

For the purpose of this writing, the words “disability”, “exceptionality”, and “disorder” are often used interchangeably as they refer to outcomes of depleted rebreathing. Considering for an example that many who are autistic don’t consider it a disability, the use of these words is not meant in any way to judge negatively about any condition. There is never any intent to offend.

Let me start by explaining what rebreathing is.