A Simple Explanation for SIDS (Crib Deaths)

By Dr. Denton Davis 

I am a physician who has become convinced that the crib environment consisting of chemical compounds, mildew and mites is a cesspool.  Since 1995 35,000 New Zealand babies have slept on protected mattresses without a single crib death. Statistically speaking this means 65-70 babies didn't die. 

A mother-to-be probably never gives much thought to the bassinet or crib mattress she is about to place her newborn on when she returns home from the hospital. After all, what was good for a prior child is probably good enough for the new baby. And besides, what could possibly be dangerous in a used mattress, anyway?

The answer may be shocking to many mothers, as well as grandparents, nurses, midwives, and also doctors who have collectedly taken mattress safety for granted. This sense of security, however, may not be well-founded for several reasons. 

First the material which is used in the mattress manufacturing process is most often polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Unfortunately, PVC tends to decompose over time by a process which is the reverse of how it is formed. Herein may be a fault, which has not been fully appreciated, and deserves everyone's attention. 

Secondly, the crib environment must be considered, because microbes, such as bacteria,and molds and dust mites are abundant. Simple microorganisms consume large amounts of nitrogen as a food and energy source. A baby's environment is rich in nitrogen containing chemicals, which are readily present in detergents and fabric softeners.

The smell of ammonia, the gas of nitrogen is produced by microorganisms. Unfortunately, a common household mildew can form other gases from chemical elements, which have been placed in crib mattress PVC, such as phosphorus, arsenic and antimony. The gases of these elements are deadly. 

Over time, all mattresses are subjected to variations in temperature, and moisture, as well as a variety of microbes, such as mildew and household dust mites. The fact that over a thousand babies from the mildew generated gas of arsenic 100 years ago should have served as a warning, instead this fact has been ignored.

The gases of antimony and phosphorus, which resemble nitrogen and arsenic, should have been a predictable deadly outcome when is was decided to place these elements in PVC intended for use in mattresses. The number of microbes a mattress can harbor and support is astronomical.

Therefore the poison gas problem can originate whenever a mattress contains phosphorus, arsenic or antimony.  Interestingly, no one appears to have paid much attention to mildew's potential harm until 1989. A report surfaced from a laboratory in England that a danger may exist, if an interaction took place involving PVC and mildew within a crib mattress.

Since that time, a great deal of attention has been directed at proving the opposite, while little or no attention has been given to this explanation within the United States. It is reasonable for every parent to conclude that common mildew may not be as safe or as harmless as we have been led to believe by the experts.

No baby, as a consequence, should be placed on any surface that might contain mildew or the dangerous elements. The following items may contain one or more of the elements and should be avoided; PVC, sheepskins, Ti Tree, Kapok, and polyester materials.         

Ten years ago, Barry Richardson, an English chemist and materials preservation expert, knowledgeable in the wet and dry rot that affects wood and other materials, was asked if crib mattresses might be a cause of SIDS.

Richardson was aware of large epidemic that involved thousands of children, who had died as the result of a mildew-mediated poisoning. It was an Italian chemist, who realized in 1892, that mildew was able to metabolize materials containing arsenic, which could be readily found in the dead infants' environment.

This interaction between arsenic and mildew was releasing a deadly gas that was responsible for the epidemic of unexplained deaths.

Dr. Richardson surmised, in 1989, that a similar mildew he had found in crib death mattresses might be capable of doing the same to elements, which had been placed in PVC and might, as a result, be a link to SIDS or Cot Death, as it is called in his country. The mildew he suspected he found in crib mattresses upon which a baby had died, without medical explanation.

He placed the mildew he had found upon samples of PVC he obtained from the same mattresses although he believed that he could find the same gas as the Italian chemist, Gosio; namely, arsine, he failed to do so.

Arsine gas, a product of arsenic, could be found, but not in any appreciable quantity. However, in the process of this attempt, a technician working over the samples began to complain of violent headaches.

As a result, Richardson decided to look for a gas other than arsine. In particular, his technician suggested he look for phosphine and stibine because the electron structure of these elements is similar to arsenic. 

Oftentimes, discoveries are accidental. A New Zealand pediatrician's simple question to mothers, who had suffered the loss of child to SIDS, revealed that more than 70% of the victims had been found on their stomachs.

As a result, without scientific proof, he recommended that all infants be placed on their backs during their first year of life. The medical profession, as a group, in New Zealand, later in England, and still later in the United States, without scientific evidence, agreed.

No one, to date, has been able to explain why the death rate dramatically declined by 30% in the following years in each country leaving this part of the Crib Death mystery still unsolved, or maybe not. 

Richardson had already recommended the back position, as well as the use of a simple polyethylene mattress cover, without benefit of the New Zealand questionnaire, based on what he was discovering in his laboratory. His experiments had trapped both phosphine and stibine gases, which he concluded had to have come from the mildew interacting with the PVC. 

He also learned that phosphorus had been added to PVC shortly after the discovery that PVC began to decompose after it was manufactured.

Phosphorus would not only delay the decomposing process, but would soften and strengthen the PVC. He already knew that antimony had been added to PVC, as a flame retardant, in the early 1950's, with increasing amounts added in 1986-88. The time frames he looked at coincided closely with the emergence of SIDS as an entity, as well as the peak incidence in England. 

Richardson had no choice but to conclude that a physical contact between PVC and mildew could, given the right environment, result in a chemical biological interaction with the creation of potentially poisonous gases within a newborn's crib mattress.

While Richardson was conducting his experiments, a friend named Peter Mitchell was analyzing SIDS data. He recognized a pattern he found very disturbing, because it appeared the risk of SIDS was not equal, for every baby.

He found the risk of SIDS was twice as great for a second and still greater for a third or later child born to the same mother. He also noted a strong correlation of SIDS with mothers in lower socio-economic circumstances, especially those mothers who were unmarried or wives of British army recruits. 

Mitchell's work forced him to conclude that used mattresses may be the most important factor contributing to SIDS, but his data, like Richardson's, went largely ignored, except by the media.

The poisonous gas explanation became big news in the papers, and on television, because of the obvious suggested link to SIDS. Somewhat embarrassed by the publicity, the scientific community reacted swiftly, automatically, and negatively, pointing out the research work that had been conducted was unscientific and that it should be ignored.

Dr. Richardson, in fact, had been quite cautious in his statements in 1989. He suggested that additional research should be conducted, but in the interim, proposed that used mattresses be covered. His recommendation today remains unchanged, simply cover older, previously used baby mattresses with a thick, non-porous, polyethylene material, which is free of phosphorus, arsenic, and antimony, just in case the mixture of PVC and mildew, was conducive to producing an interaction and unfortunate release of one or more gases in the presence of a susceptible infant.

Additionally, Dr. Richardson has spear-headed a drive, in England, to encourage manufacturers to voluntarily remove the elements he considered dangerous from all mattresses.          

As an emergency physician, I believe in the old expression, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." I've already gone on record by recommending the use of a polyethylene cover called Babesafe, which is imported from New Zealand. I am currently recommending that no infant during the first year of life be placed upon any new or old, unprotected mattress, either in or out of his or her crib.

In terms of research, there is no double blind scientific study that anyone could contemplate doing or, for that matter, a mother would agree to, that would place a newborn at deliberate risk on a used mattress.

Therefore, the ideal study would place all new borns on a non-PVC protective cover. If the death rate declined, as it did with the back-to-sleep campaign, evidence would accumulate attesting to the safety of the cover, and the underlying danger of the mattress.

This prospective study has actually already taken place, because over 30,000 babies have slept on this surface without a single death. In other words 50 babies are alive today in New Zealand, which, statistically speaking, should have died from SIDS 

As a doctor, I would recommend that as many babies as possible be placed upon mattresses protected with polyethylene covers, in general, or the Babesafe cover, in particular.

The alternative would be to place all new borns on new mattresses which are free from arsenic, antimony and especially, phosphorus. Babies sleeping on their backs already appear to have some protection against the heavier gases of arsenic and antimony, however, phosphine remains the danger due to its similarity with air.

The scope of the phosphine problem may never be known, because if this gas enters a baby's body it may be untraceable if death quickly occurs.

Phosphine gas leaves many characteristic findings in adults who have been exposed, because death is never immediate, unlike what appears to occur in SIDS In conclusion, Dr. Richardson's recommendation to cover mattresses containing theses potentially harmful ingredients, or to remove them entirely, makes excellent sense and, in the process, can do NO harm.

Dr. Mercola's Comment:

This seems like a reasonable and simple step that appears to have great potential to avoid one of the most tragic of all events, the death of a healthy newborn.

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In spite of the Back to Sleep Campaign, a significant number of babies will die this year from Sudden Unexplained Infant Death, or as it is often called, SIDS. The Babesafe Cover you have inquired about was developed by a New Zealand chemist, named Jim Sprott. (The details can be found at www.criblife2000.com).

Dr. Sprott certifies that there is no phosphorus, arsenic or antimony contained in his polyethylene material. This cover was manufactured in New Zealand, in order to provide parents with a safe cover to place over both bassinet and crib mattresses, made from PVC, which might also contain mildew.

The Babesafe cover was designed to completely enclose a baby?s mattress. Once it has been properly installed you will notice there are holes for ventilation, which have been placed only on the surface, which faces the floor. Under no circumstances should these vents become covered by tape or bedding.

Since 1995, over 35,000 babies have sleep on the Babesafe cover, in New Zealand and elsewhere, without a single reported case of SIDS.

Dr. Sprott?s Babesafe cover is now being imported by Dr. D?s Babysafe Cover. Due to the fact that there is strong evidence to support the fact that used crib mattresses may be particularly dangerous, it is my recommendation that parents in the United States be made aware of the fact that this simple cover may be lifesaving.

The cover, while serving as a protective barrier, can do no harm. It will not cause suffocation or overheating. This product can be easily cleaned with soap and water. Strong chemicals should never be used in the crib environment.

It should not be removed until your baby is out of the crib, because the long-term exposure danger, especially to antimony is unknown. After the cover is applied a firm fitting pure cotton blanket and sheet should be placed over the protected mattress.

The cost for each cover, either bassinet or crib size is $29.95 each plus $5.00 for shipping. Currently both credit cards and checks can be accepted.

Checks should be made payable to Dr. D?S Babysafe Cover and sent to the above address. A secure on-line terminal can be found at www.criblife2000.com Upon receipt of your email order a cover will be sent out immediately. Complete satisfaction is guaranteed or prompt refund will be made.

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