Every year in the United States 2,500 infants die from SIDS, and sixty percent of those are boys. The origin of SIDS is generally treated as a great mystery. Some of the frequently suggested causes are respiratory failure, low birth weight, bed-sharing, vaccines, and/or abnormal brain cells. Boys are sixty percent more likely to be born prematurely, another risk factor, but a new paper from a researcher at the University of Sheffield suggests another reason SIDS disproportionally affects baby boys – neonatal circumcision.
How They’re Linked
Circumcision is trauma. We don’t know exactly how trauma will affect an infant, but we do know that trauma can halt development and interrupt other important processes in the body.
Due to how quickly circumcisions are performed, most doctors opt out of anesthesia for the treatment, leaving the baby traumatized by the pain. The most common complication as a result of circumcision is bleeding, although shock, sepsis, circulatory shock, hemorrhage, and death can occur.
Dr. Eran Elhaik, the researcher behind the paper, addresses the effect of circumcision on the cardiovascular system and SIDS.
For instance, circumcision reduces the heart rate  and together with the loss of blood there is a danger of reducing the blood volume, blood pressure, and the amount of oxygen reaching the tissues [5, 77]. A reduced blood pressure has been associated with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a condition where the walls of the throat relax and narrow during sleep, interrupting normal breathing [77, 78]. Unsurprisingly, SIDS victims experienced significantly more frequent episodes of OSA .”
The U.S. has one of the highest rates of SIDS in the world. We also have one of the highest rates of circumcision in the developed world, establishing a link between neonatal circumcision and SIDS. Once you break things down into further groups, the connection becomes stronger. There is one group in the U.S. that experiences lower rates of SIDS – Latinos like Mexican Americans, who circumcise 44% of boys at birth in comparison to the white rate of 90.8%. Unsurprisingly, rates of SIDS among Hispanic are 39% lower than whites in the U.S.
The data in other countries also suggests that circumcision is a risk factor for SIDS. Japan is recognized for its famously low rate of SIDS. Neonatal circumcision is rarely performed there.
Unnecessary Procedure, Avoidable Deaths
This is by no means a comprehensive study. We still don’t know what causes SIDS. It is amazing that years of research have overlooked such a simple factor. Why have scientists considered sleeping arrangements a bigger issue than a life-altering instance of trauma?
Neonatal circumcision is an unnecessary procedure. Many circumcised adult men express regret regarding their circumcision, and science has determined that negative effects from circumcision persist later in life, reducing sexual pleasure and a greater likelihood of infection or cancer. The damage caused by genital mutilation is very much real and likely still not fully understood. There is no good reason to continue it.
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- Is MGM a contributor to SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, “cot death”)? – Justice for Men and Boys
- Adversarial childhood events are associated with Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS): an ecological study – Biorxiv
- Why Is SIDS More Common In Boys? Researchers Don’t Have All The Answers – Romper
- The long and short of male circumcision in Japan – Japan Times