Sunday, October 30, 2011

Preventing SIDS with breathing monitors: Nonsense from both sides

I read with interest this Globe and Mail article today about the marketing of devices that purportedly prevent SIDS. Almost everything in the article is an important read for parents of babies. I completely agree that marketing devices with specific medical claims should not be allowed unless there is scientific evidence backing up those claims. And certainly, there is a lot of hocus-pocus at the website

However, I take exception to a quote attributed to Irene Morgan of the  Canadian Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths. She says that breathing monitors pose "a danger to infants" because "it provides them with a false sense of security".  "High-end baby monitors may lull parents into thinking they don’t have to be as strict with their baby’s sleeping arrangements".

Excuse me?  Is there scientific evidence that these devices have caused harm?

Does using a children's car seat provide a false sense of security? Do parents drive more recklessly because they have installed a proper car seat?  Do people eat a worse diet if have an annual checkup and therefore are placated into thinking any problems caused by their diet will be detected?

I am not comparing car seats to breathing monitors. The former have been proven to save lives, the latter have not. The parallel I am drawing is the questionable assertion that people will be less careful when a safety device is in use. When making such a claim, evidence needs to be given. Perhaps some people will be less careful. But that doesn't mean that the safety device should be banned; it simply means that people using it should be warned that

The American Academic of Pediatrics has a policy that doctors should not prescribe breathing monitors, because research has shown that apnea (temporary cessation of breathing) does not seem to cause SIDS. And there is a small amount of research that says parents are under more stress when using a monitor (because they are talking about premature infants with lots of short periods of apnea, and hence lots of alarms). But there are non-sequiturs here: This research is primarily about premature infants, not normal infants whose parents might buy a regular baby monitor; it is talking about expensive medical monitors, and the research shows that even the stressed-out parents were happy, after the fact, to have used the expensive monitors. I can certainly see that it is important not to recommend an expensive therapy that seems to induce high stress and has no proven benefit. But this is not the same as saying that ordinary people shouldn't use an inexpensive variant in a non-stressful situation where there is no evidence of harm.

We have used an AngelCare monitor with a breathing detector for all three of our children. We love it. We even got a second since our first two children were relatively close in age. This is one of the devices that the Globe and Mail article and the Canadian Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths is criticizing. To me there is absolutely no comparison between using such a device and using proven-dangerous positioning aids, that the article also criticizes, or following other hocus-pocus on various websites.

The AngelCare monitor has a device that goes under the mattress and seems to do a good job of detecting breathing, or lack thereof. If we remove the baby (so no breathing is present) the alarm sounds.

We had two false alarms early on with two of the children (due to short periods of shallow breathing). I supposed this may have caused us minor and very temporary stress for a couple of minutes. But it is reassuring to know that baby has not somehow smothered herself. And surely if she did suffer SIDS, she would stop breathing and the alarm would sound. It would surely be better to know that so one could call 911 and start CPR, no?

Are we going to do reckless things with our baby because she has a breathing monitor? No. Are other people likely to? If scientists think so, then they should do a large-scale study.

Note: The above is not medical advice. I have no medical training.

1 comment:

  1. the blog-engine just ate my previous comment :( Thanks for the article. It is really reassuring for me that it was not useless to buy the baby-monitor for my son! Krisztian