Sudden Infant Death Syndrome
When a previously healthy infant is found unexpectedly dead, it is intensely emotionally traumatic. Caregivers blame themselves and each other. Families can be torn apart as a result of such an experience. For these reasons, proper management by experienced professionals is essential. A thorough investigation to determine the true cause of death is required. Other causes of sudden unexpected deaths of infants that have been mistakenly labeled as SIDS include congenital abnormalities of the heart and brain, metabolic disorders, occult infection (an infection that had escaped discovery), and accidental and non-accidental trauma. Nonaccidental trauma or child abuse mistaken for SIDS has been highlighted by several high-profile cases in both the United States and Europe. The recommended approach when an infant is found unexpectedly dead consists of a thorough investigation at the scene to detail the environmental circumstances. This should be followed by a careful review of the infant's medical, social, and family histories, followed by a complete postmortem examination by an experienced forensic pathologist. In some cases, laboratory studies on family members may be indicated. Counseling of parents is essential so that they have accurate information as to the cause of their infant's death and the implications for future children, as well as for emotional support. Community resources should be provided for ongoing support.