Good News for Newborns

One of the good things about being a pediatrician is that most of the time we deal with healthy children and happy outcomes. So, when there is a sad outcome, it is that much more painful. Of course, every time a child is sick or dying, we feel terrible. But the sudden onset of illness or death in newborns is so unexpected. It is an additional blow.

By Dr. Robert B. Golenbock

What I want to tell you is good news. The first story is a study from India that showed an amazing 33 percent reduction in mortality among premature and low-birth-weight infants by simply providing them with “kangaroo care” within 24 hours of delivery. That is to say, infants well enough to be held against their mother with skin-to-skin contact did better than infants in an ICU setting getting conventional care. While this information should make a very big difference in low- and moderate-income countries, the American Academy of Pediatrics also endorses this remarkable yet simple therapy. 

There have been recent breakthroughs in another heartbreaking disorder called Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or SIDS, in which infants, generally in the first six months of life, are found not breathing for no apparent reason. While examples can be found in history going back to biblical times, the syndrome has only been scientifically studied since 1969. The most important association has been with sleep position. Since the Back to Sleep campaign, which encouraged mothers to keep their babies on their backs until they were capable of turning over on their own, the number of SIDS cases has dropped substantially. Unfortunately, SIDS is not a single disease. What scientists are discovering is that some cases are caused by enzyme deficiencies, and some are caused by abnormalities in the way the brain receives signals about the need to breathe. We hope that these studies eventually give us even more ways to prevent SIDS.

Until we can identify infants at risk, and prevent all cases, the CDC recommends that parents place sleeping babies on their backs at all times. A baby's sleep area should be firm, flat, and free of soft toys and bedding such as blankets, pillows, and bumper pads. Parents shouldn't cover their baby's head during sleep time, and babies should ideally sleep in the same room as their parents until they're at least 6 months old. Breastfeeding has been shown to lower the risk of SIDS, while using alcohol or tobacco while pregnant can raise the risk. We hope ongoing scientific studies will eventually allow us to eliminate this unfortunate syndrome completely. Until more studies have been done, the best thing mothers can do is prepare for a healthy baby by not smoking or drinking alcohol during pregnancy, eating, and keeping babies on their backs until they are able to turn over by themselves. 

Robert B. Golenbock, MD, is currently retired. He has cared for children in the Danbury area for 43 years, including at the Center for Pediatric Medicine. The CPM is located at 107 Newtown Rd, #1D, Danbury, CT, 06810. For more information, please call (203) 790-0822 or visit