The number of babies who die of sudden infant death syndrome increases by 33 percent on New Year's Day, according to researchers who blame the increase on alcohol consumption by caregivers.
A large-scale study looking at the connection between SIDS and alcohol was conducted by University of California sociologist David Phillips from 1973 to 2006. The spike, according to the research, is beyond the normal winter increase in SIDS.
The study examined 129,090 SIDS cases over a 33-year period. Although the researchers say the data is startling, they can't completely determine whether alcohol is an independent risk factor for SIDS. However, it does raise concerns about the connection.
"It's interesting because this is quite a spike," said Dr. Jason Hoagland, a pediatrician and section chief at Davis Hospital and Medical Center.
"There's obviously a significant increase on New Year's Day, and we can't ignore the data. However, there still needs to be more research done so we can say for certain that the child died because the caretaker was drinking. We've looked at this as a possible risk factor for years."
During the study, researchers compared expected numbers of deaths on New Year's Day vs. the observed number. They also estimated consumption of alcohol by examining data on alcohol- related motor vehicle accidents among the general population.
The study showed there were spikes in both alcohol consumption and SIDS on New Year's Day.
"It's clear that when a person is drinking they are not thinking as clearly as they normally would," Hoagland said. "They might forget to put the baby to bed on its back or they may just put the baby in bed with them and accidently suffocate it.
When you are intoxicated and stop becoming responsible and stop thinking about the consequences, you are putting yourself and your child at risk for a tragic outcome."
In addition to the link between New Year's and SIDS, researchers also discovered SIDS and alcohol consumption increase every weekend as well as a rise just after April 20, a counterculture celebration of cannabis, and after July 4, which is also known as a time of heavy alcohol consumption.
In addition, the SIDS death rate is abnormally high for babies whose mothers consume alcohol. The study states babies of mothers who drink are more than twice as likely to die of SIDS.
Dr. Blake Yerman, emergency medical specialist at Ogden Regional Medical Center, said the study calls attention to a tragedy no family expects to go through.
"Although the study alerts us to considering the increase in SIDS at this time of the year, it concerns me because it does not have evidence to suggest a cause or action to prevent this increase," Yerman said.
"Studies such as this one are critical to improving medicine, but it's important to recognize that research is an ongoing process."
Although SIDS has decreased significantly since the implementation of the 1994 "back to sleep" campaign, which urges parents and caregivers to put infants to sleep on their backs, it remains the number one cause of death between the ages of 1 month and 1 year.
"Losing a baby to SIDS is one of the most devastating events a parent can experience," Yerman said.
"That's why it is important to push forward, conduct further research and come to an evidence-based conclusion as to what factor or factors caused this SIDS increase."