Preventing SIDS: Sudden Infant Death Syndrome

OH, NO!!! PLEASE, LORD, NO!!! She has stopped breathing! CALL 911!! HURRY!!!

This happens up to five thousand (reported) times a year in the United States.

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome has become a scourge to young and old parents, alike. I have raised three children and have suffered through many nights wondering if I should shake my child to see if it’s sleeping or if something may be wrong. All new parents have this urge and, the more they hear about all the things that may go wrong, it is no accident they become paranoid. The medical profession has, since post World War II, inundated the lay public with the statement that SIDS is idiopathic.  My fifty-one years in private practice, specializing in children with scoliosis, has proved to me that SIDS is both predictable and preventable. In addition, I have taught on the post-graduate faculties of ten chiropractic colleges and my research has shown a correlation between presently accepted obstetric procedures and the incidence of SIDS.

In the year following the recognition of the seriousness of this condition, the medical profession determined that, since all SIDS deaths occur when the baby is on its stomach, that must be the cause. The profession then determined all babies should sleep on their backs to prevent the syndrome. This, of course, caused the child to develop a flat area in the occipital region of its skull. In 2004, the medical profession determined all babies should wear helmets when sleeping, for the first year of life. This would prevent the flattening of the skull.

SIDS Background

DEFINITION: The medical profession has defined Sudden Infant Death Syndrome as the “sudden and unexplained death of an infant less than one year of age.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics states SIDS, sometimes called “crib death,” takes the life of over five thousand babies every year. There are also an unknown number of children who die with listings of “unknown” causes that may be SIDS deaths.

The American Academy of Pediatrics further states that doctors and nurses do not know what causes SIDS, but they have provided some hints for parents to follow. My question would be, “If we do not know what causes the condition, on what do we base the application of prevention?”

The following are quotes from the AAP website.

• ACADEMY STATEMENT:  “Healthy babies should sleep on their backs.”

1. My understanding, from training in pediatrics, is that babies have been put on their stomachs to keep the airway open.

2. Babies are normally put down after nursing or being bottle-fed so that, if they spit up, it may not cause them to choke.

3. Another problem in continually putting a baby on its back is that its skull is very soft and I have seen many infants with the backs of their heads flat, instead of round. A child will normally roll its head from side to side, when sleeping, which is God’s design to keep the head from becoming deformed.

• ACADEMY STATEMENTS:  “The death is sudden and unpredictable; in most cases the baby appears healthy.”  “Death comes quickly, usually during sleep time.”  “After thirty years of research, scientists still cannot find one definite cause for SIDS.”  “There is no way to predict or prevent SIDS.”

The foregoing statements have been attributed to the Academy, U. S. Public Health Service, SIDS Alliance and Association of SIDS and Infant Mortality Programs.

• MY STATEMENTS:  I will provide information to show that SIDS may well be predictable and is definitely preventable.  Unfortunately, the cause and prevention do not follow prescribed medical procedures and protocols.  They fall within the realm of musculoskeletal biomechanics and neurology. It has to do with the way the body was designed to respond to trauma and the long lasting effects trauma has on the body.

Cause and Effect

Trauma to the phrenic nerve, located in the cervical spine is the most logical cause of SIDS. The following pages will present clinical information confirming my opinion as to why any extensive pressure on the phrenic nerve would cause the condition known as SIDS. The nerve controls the function of the diaphragm, which controls our breathing. The Phrenic nerve emits from the cervical spine at the level of the third cervical vertebrae.

Any occlusion/pressure on the nerve causes a disturbance in the nerve transmission—which affects the function of the diaphragm.

Each of the spinal nerves is an extension of the brain, which controls all functions of the body. Nerve stimulation, nerve block procedures and nerve testing is a part of the medical field’s procedures. Science knows where every nerve is and what area it stimulates or innervates. So, when a nerve is cut, all function, of the part it innervates ceases.  The same holds true if nerve transmission is interfered with in any way, including pressure or damage to the sheath covering the nerve. The damage to the nerve, depending how severe, may take some external action to cause the part controlled by the nerve to be affected. The external action may be a postural attitude that triggers the response.


The birth process is now and always has been a miracle of life. The work performed by midwives and obstetricians makes them unsung heroes in our daily life.

The following pages show normal births along with forceps deliveries. We realize there may be no two birth deliveries alike, but you’ll notice the normal birth has the child descending the birth canal face down. When the baby’s head appears, many times the doctor will hold the head in his/her hands and rotate the head until the body turns so the baby is face up. This is where the damage is done to the neck and the predisposition for the occurrence of SIDS takes place. Another condition that can result from the pulling and turning of the neck is “Erb’s paralysis”, which affects the brachial plexus and causes paralysis of the arm.

Birth Process (based on a typical normal birth)

When the baby is ready to be born, it moves headfirst into the birth canal. The child moves into a face down position with arms across the chest and the legs crossed and bent.

The top of the head is the first to be seen. This is called” crowning.” In a natural unassisted birth, the pushing by the mother and the uterine contractions continue to move the baby through the birth canal and the child is born face down. If the mother has a child delivered, assisted by a doctor of obstetrics, a change is usually made in the delivery of the child. As the crowning takes place the doctor takes the head of the child in his/her hands and turns the head in a one-hundred-eighty-degree turn to have the child born face up. Since the body of the baby is in the birth canal when the head is turned, there is resistance. The doctor will continue to apply pressure to the head and neck until the body rotates to a face up position. The bones in a newborn are not connected to each other, but are held in position by ligaments. The bones are soft enough that you are able to bend leg and arm bones without breaking them. This will change immediately after birth, as the bones grow from the center to the ends and begin to harden. The cervical vertebrae form a solid protection for the spinal cord, give form to the neck and allow for rotation of the head. When the doctor turns the head to force the body to rotate, the doctor is applying a great amount of pressure to the very small and delicate vertebral structures.

I have witnessed many births and have marveled that the baby was resilient enough to have its neck twisted to that extent and still live. When a child is delivered, under these obstetrical procedures, the new mother will note the baby has a tendency to turn its head more to one side than the other when lying on its back. When the baby is put on its stomach, it will almost always turn its head to the side that is most comfortable. When examining a baby, I always gently rotate its head, when it is on its back, to see which way the vertebrae are rotated when in the neutral position. When facing directly forward, the average child or adult will find it is able to turn or rotate its head more to one side than the other. This is because the individual vertebrae are subject to the vertebrae serving as their foundation. If vertebrae are rotated, that forces the vertebrae above to also rotate to some degree. This is how we bend and turn our heads. When the obstetrician turns the baby’s head, to that extent, it may cause a subluxation of the third and fourth cervical vertebrae. This subluxation will, over a period of time, possibly cause inflammatory reaction in the foramina, causing occlusion.

The chiropractic profession has grown to be the largest alternative health care profession in the world, based on the philosophy and premise that God made no mistakes in designing the body and, when there is nerve impingement, it causes dysfunction.

Points to consider

Why haven’t there been studies of the following;

a. Frequency of SIDS deaths in non-obstetrical assisted births.
b. Frequency of SIDS deaths in home deliveries.
c. Frequency of SIDS death with babies under chiropractic care.
d. Frequency of SIDS death when there is no turning of the head when a child is born face down.

Over the years I have treated hundreds of babies, but one case is indicative of the cervical problem suffered by thousands of babies. A young mother came to the office with her one-month-old baby with diagnosed infantile torticollis, or stiff neck. This child’s head was turned to the right as far as it could turn and the child could not turn its head. The mother said this had been present since birth and she had discussed the problem with the doctor who delivered the baby and the pediatrician. Both doctors had diagnosed the case but had indicated the child would grow out of the problem. When the condition did not change, she was sent to an orthopedic surgeon who confirmed the diagnosis.  He told her to put the child on its back, hold its head in her hands and rapidly turn the head from right to left fifty times. She was to do this three times a day.

The mother was so shocked by the suggestion, she immediately left the doctor’s office. She had been recommended to our office, since I had treated many of these cases. It took two weeks and four cervical adjustments to correct the problem. When the cervical ligamentous tissue and musculature are stretched to that extent during the birth process, they will not return to normal without proper treatment.

Critics of this hypothesis will say that babies’ neck vertebrae are incapable of being displaced. These critics will be medical doctors who do not receive training in musculoskeletal conditions. Chiropractic physicians have been treating cases of infantile torticollis for over one hundred years. In the early part of the last century into the 1930’s, most children were born at home with midwives or neighbors attending. SIDS became an issue after the majority of births began taking place in hospitals and standard delivery procedures were established.

The hypothesis is based on the premise that the brain, which is the first nerve center to be formed in embryo, controls the function of all systems through the nerves. The areas of concern are the cervical nerves emitting from the cervical spine.

During the obstetrical birth of a child, the trauma induced in the cervical spine sets into action a foraminal occlusion.  In a matter of time, this will affect the function of the diaphragm and result in disturbed breathing. The medical community will not accept this cause and effect, since it does not fall within the philosophy of cause and effect in the field of medicine.

There has never been a study, controlled or otherwise, to determine how many babies under chiropractic care died of SIDS. In my forty-seven years of providing care to infants, I never had a baby die of SIDS. During my years of teaching clinical sciences on the postgraduate faculty of ten colleges, I never found a SIDS death among the thousands of field doctors that I instructed.

NOTE: The previous information was taken, in part, from the book SIDS, by the author. More information, research and copies of the book may be obtained from R. B. Mawhiney, D.C., D.I.S.R.C., by mailing to 9196B SW 89th Terrace, Ocala, FL. 34481, or emailing [email protected].

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