Could We Know the Cause of SIDS?

 I certainly would never claim to be an expert on the subject of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome for those not on the mailing list of the Association of Giving Parents More Things to Be Afraid Of).  But if I can use this forum to share information I've found that could potentially prevent a SIDS death, then I can't not do so.  There is compelling evidence that the cause of SIDS or crib death has been found and it is simple - your baby's mattress. 

It seems that the chemicals added to make a mattress flame-retardant react with a common household fungus that grows in the mattress.  This forms a toxic gas that over time, releases from the mattress and can poison and even kill a baby.  But the evidence of the poisoning is gone by the time an autopsy would be performed.  I won't go into it more here, I'll leave it to the links at the bottom of the page and the following quote to explain it much better than I can if you'd like to know more.  To me, it makes sense and it also means that it can be easily prevented and that is a very, very good thing. 

 "The fungi are harmless by themselves but feed on these chemicals. The byproducts are the gases phosphine (PH3), arsine (AsH3) and stibine (SbH3). These nearly odorless gases breathed even in small quantities for an extended time can interrupt the choline/acetylcholine transfer of nervous impulses from the brain to the heart and lungs. This shuts down the central nervous system; heart function and breathing stop. The gases are heavier than air, and about 1,000 times more poisonous than carbon monoxide. A baby sleeping on its stomach is in the zone above the mattress where the gases are most dense. Repeated exposure to these gases, especially in combination with other insults to a baby s immune systems, can result in toxic overload and death." 

It also makes sense in my head why there are 'risk factors' for SIDS but no explanation as to cause (until this theory).  The following are the main guidelines given to parents to reduce the chance of crib death, followed by my thinking as to why it would jive with this theory. 

Sleep your baby on their back
This is the biggest risk factor associated with SIDS.  If a baby's mouth and nose are closer to the mattress, they will be breathing a greater amount of these gases.  Keep reading, though, because we don't actually do this and you'll see why.

Breastfeed your baby
Breastfed babies have a stronger immune system and also wake more and tend to be kept closer to mom during the night.  I would think that waking more might disrupt the effect of the gases?  And I think this might be linked to why pacifier use is also encouraged to prevent SIDS.

Sleep close to your baby
Babies who sleep close to mom regulate their breathing better and mom is also able to keep a closer half-conscious ear out.  Not in your bed, they say...that would makes sense with the theory since adult mattresses are also treated with these chemicals.

Do not use an old mattress
The longer a mattress has to break down and increase the amount of fungus inhabiting it, the greater the amount of gases.

Keep all blankets, toys, and pillows out of a crib
If the theory is correct, I would think extra blankets and things could trap the gases rather than letting them disseminate as quickly as they otherwise would have, thereby increasing the risk.  Also, some blankets and stuffed animals are even treated with these chemicals.

Do not smoke during pregnancy or after baby is born
Exposure to cigarette smoke in utero and secondhand is just bad for a baby in many ways, affecting much of their development, including their respiratory and immune systems.

This theory could be dead wrong, but for me and my family, the evidence, or even the theory, is enough for me to take notice.  Like I said, I'm no expert.  I'm just a concerned mom that reads a lot and never really understood why they couldn't figure it out.  Since learning this a few years ago, we've had mattresses custom-made for our children made of organic cotton and wool.  Since wool is naturally flame retardant, it passes the (ridiculously silly) government standards without adding the harmful chemicals.  We even have a 'mattress guy' that has made the mattresses for us that I found on Craigslist.  It definitely does cost more than a conventional cheap mattress but we felt the cost was worth it (and they are SOO comfortable!).  We have yet to invest in one for ourselves because of the cost (we of those things I don't think about enough).   But I am at peace knowing that the boys' mattresses and the crib mattress are organic and safe.  The one for the co-sleeper we're currently using for Luke I bought from HERE.  I wish I could sleep on this thing, it is so snuggly!  We've also taken steps to eliminate the pajamas that are treated to be flame-retardant.  I'd rather take the precautions myself to make sure that a fire doesn't happen in the first place than think that coating pajamas and mattresses in potentially harmful chemicals will protect them if a fire is raging in their room.  And those same chemicals right on their skin can't be a good thing.

And hey, even if you cannot afford to buy a different mattress, there are ways of 'wrapping' a conventional mattress, that traps the gases below so that they cannot get to the baby.  Apparently, this system virtually eliminated SIDS in New Zealand (see the links below).

Again, I repeat, I am no expert on this (could I say this again?).  I am open to having me or this theory corrected , but to me it is valuable knowledge that should be considered.  I buy it and for that reason and because we've bought the natural, non-treated mattresses, breastfeed, never have or will smoke, and sleep inches away from our babies until their a few months old (after that they are only a few yards away in the crib), I feel comfortable sleeping our babies on their tummies. They sleep so much better on their stomachs and I actually think it's safer if you have a spitter like I do who is a pro at spitting up in his sleep.  I sometimes even use a blanket if I think it is safe and needed.  And hey, blessing your baby each night before bed is always a good and holy thing to do, too.  Take the information and do with it what you will.  Knowledge is power...or something like that.  May all our babies be kept safe and sleep sound!   



  1. What kind of mattresses do you reccomend? Why this is very enlightening.

  2. Hi Joann,
    There are places online that sell mattresses free of the flame retardant chemicals. is one. and are also two that I know of but I'm sure there are many more if you google it.

    There is also the (cheaper) option of wrapping a traditional mattress but I haven't been able to find a whole lot on that topic other than from sites that sell products for it.

    We lucked out finding someone local who makes mattresses and he showed us his shop and made them with organic cotton and Amish wool.

    I hope that gives a little bit of help! Once again, I have to say, I'm just sharing the info...I don't know how true the theory is but it's worth looking into, in my opinion. Thanks for stopping by!



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