History of SIDS
The Holy Bible 1 Kings 3:19 (King James
Version) records an infant brought to
King Solomon dead as a result of being “overlaid.” Originally,
SIDS was described
as overlaying. It was assumed the infant died as the result
of a neglectful mother
laying on him. In early history, a mother whose child died
of overlaying was
In Egypt, about the same time period of King Solomon,
mothers judged responsible
for overlaying were condemned to hug the infant for three
days and nights as
punishment for their neglect.
The practice of punishing a
mother for overlaying lasted into the 17th century.
In Sweden, a mother whose child had died was judged
by the church. If the
church found the mother guilty of overlaying, she was placed
in a pillory in front
of the church and lost her standing in the church and community.
After a public
confession, she could be reinstated into the church and community.
In Florence, a device was invented to prevent overlaying.
This device was placed
over the child while asleep to prevent the mother from rolling
onto the infant. A
woman guilty of overlaying and found not using this device
from the church.
Later, after cribs and cradles had been
invented, the idea of accidental overlaying
was gradually abandoned. The diagnosis of overlaying could
not be applied to an
infant who had died in a separate bed than the mother.
The diagnosis was changed
to “crib death” or “cot death.” This
term, along with others, continued to be used
well into the 20th century.
Dr. S.W. Fearn noted in a letter to Lancet his postmortem
findings of two children
which anticipate the current findings of SIDS.
Dr. C.A. Lee published an article in the American Journal
of Medical Science on the
abnormally large thymus gland in infants as a possible cause
of sudden infant
Dr. C. Templeman published an article in the Edinburgh
Medical Journal based
on his autopsy and investigative findings attributing sudden
infant deaths to
suffocation, but he describes typical pathological findings
similar to SIDS.