The Truth About SIDS

(Sudden Infant Death "Syndrome" )

Lendon H. Smith, MD with Joseph G. Hattersley, MA

June 27, 1999

Before World War II, unexplained infant deaths were unusual. But after 1950, the government required treatment of baby and child mattresses with fire retardant chemicals. Sadly, doing so was counterproductive in two ways. (1) It is well known that the number of baby deaths in home fires grew substantially- in England, about ten-fold.  (2) American "SIDS" deaths ballooned 400-fold. The mechanism of death was identical in both types of tragedy.

What is that mechanism? A common, ordinarily harmless household fungus (Scopulariopsis brevicaulis) and certain microorganisms consume the fire-retardant phosphorus, arsenic and antimony in the mattress plasticizer. While doing this, they emit the heavier-than-air neurotoxic gases phosphine, arsine and stibine. Gas generation starts when mattress and bedding warm to body temperature in contact with the baby's body. Perspiration, dribble, urine, vomit and high (alkaline) pH enable the fungus to grow rapidly. If the baby breathes a significant amount of these nearly odorless gases for a prolonged time, the central nervous system shuts down and the baby's life tragically ends.

To prevent crib death, an appropriate barrier is needed between mattress and baby. An inexpensive slip-on mattress cover called BabeSafe® came to market in 1996. Among tens of thousands sleeping on the product in New Zealand and elsewhere, not one crib death has been reported. In the interim, mothers can elevate the head end of the crib about two inches, letting gases flow to the foot end and to the floor. (A bassinet with impervious sides would trap gases.) A rolled towel just south of baby’s rump prevents sliding; and ensures that the baby sleeps face up.

This toxic gas hypothesis was proposed by Barry Richardson, a British consulting scientist and expert in materials degradation.[1] Dr. T. James Sprott -- whose success as consulting chemist and forensic scientist has earned him great fame and respect in New Zealand -- corroborated and strengthened the argument in his compelling book, The Cot Death Cover-up? [2]

In Britain, crib death risk doubles from the first to the second baby, and doubles again from the second to the third. The fungal spores are established during prior use; gas production starts sooner and in greater volume. Infants of poor single mothers, with used mattresses and bedding and high stresses of daily living, have seven times greater risk than wealthy parents' babies. Output of toxic gases from babies' mattresses declined rapidly in Britain after June 1989, when Mr. Richardson dramatized the problem on BBC television. Parents bought new mattresses and properly wrapped old ones. Manufacturers removed the chemicals.

That ongoing, first-ever decline in "SIDS" rate in Britain accelerated in December 1991, after publicity urging parents to put babies to sleep face up. The toxic gas hypothesis explains the worldwide drop in crib deaths that followed. Incidence in Britain (0.7 per thousand live births) is now 70 percent lower than 1986-1988, when it was 2.3 per thousand. It is slightly below the rate of about 0.75 per thousand in America. The British Limerick Commission investigated the toxic gas hypothesis. If read carefully, states Dr. Sprott, the tests reported in the Commission's analysis clearly confirm the toxic gas hypothesis. However, its final report did not accurately state those findings. This form of lying is, sadly, very common throughout medical literature. The commissioners, who were already biased against the theory, knew that telling the truth could subject the British government to millions of pounds in liability lawsuits.

The truths sketched out above will surprise the "experts," who for several years shouted "Back to Sleep." Face up; a baby is less likely to inhale toxic gases generated in the mattress. Then in 1995, sleeping on the back or side with a quilt was found to increase "SIDS" risk nearly fourfold -- supposedly through smothering. So the authorities reversed field again. Re-move bedding from infant sleeping areas and dress baby warmly, they now say.

But that could multiply "SIDS" tragedies in two ways.    

(1) Babies did not smother. But quilts contain phosphorus and/or antimony and are seldom washed. So they can be infested with the same gas-generating fungus discussed earlier, increasing risk in that way and further explaining the 1995 result.

(2) Whatever raises body temperature increases risk. Many boys have a faster metabolic rate than girls; their slightly higher temperature promotes fungal gas generation and higher "SIDS" risk. High room temperature and facedown sleeping increase risk that way too. A fever can increase gas generation tenfold or more; consumption of a processed-food diet increases risk by weakening immunity leading to more infections and fevers. Fever created by vaccinations may recur at known intervals afterward, increasing risk on those days if the mattress is generating the gases. Among Caucasian babies in New Zealand sleeping on BabeSafe®, any fevers from vaccinations do no harm because these babies are not exposed to toxic gases.

Vaccinations do increase toxic gas exposure indirectly by weakening immunity and increasing incidence of asthma.

(3) Similarly, overdressing -- which authorities now endorse -- creates hyperthermia and traps gases.

And in a house fire the mercury can climb many hundreds of degrees, increasing gas generation so much that the baby would be dead in seconds, before the flames reach him.

 BabeSafe® supplier: David D. Davis, MD, 8381 El Paseo Grande, La Jolla, CA 92037.   1-619-456-5897.

Instructions, free of charge: Dr. T.J. Sprott, 10 Combes Rd., Remuera, Auckland 5, New Zealand.  Phone & fax: 64-9-5231150

The manufacturers of BabeSafe® mattress covers solicit expressions of interest from overseas distributors. They are invited to contact Dr. Sprott. - Distributor of Dr. Sprott's Babesafe covers

Note: The authors have no financial relationship with any supplier.


[1] Richardson BA. Sudden infant death syndrome: A possible primary cause. Jour Forensic Science Society 1994;34:199-204.

[2] Sprott TJ. The Cot Death Cover-up? Auckland: Penguin Environmental-NZ, 1996.

[3] Cookson WOCM, Moffatt MF. Asthma: An epidemic in the absence of infec-tion? Science 1997; 275:41-42.

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