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Early Circumcision May Be A Major Cause Of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome


Jonathan O'Callaghan

Senior Staff Writer



A researcher has claimed that circumcision may be one of the major risk factors in sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

In a study available on the pre-print server bioRxiv, Dr Eran Elhaik from the University of Sheffield in the UK suggests the large loss of blood caused by male neonatal circumcision (MNC), which is performed in the first 28 days after birth, can explain a strong correlation seen between MNC and SIDS.


“An infant has only 11 ounces of blood, and he may easily lose 1 to 2 ounces in circumcision, the equivalent of two to four blood donations for an adult,” Dr Elhaik told IFLScience, referencing one of his previous studies.

“With less blood, the blood pressure drops and the heart has to work harder, which can result in a heart attack particularly for infants whose heart did not finish developing or has some other defects.”

SIDS, also known as cot death, is the unexpected and sudden death of an otherwise healthy child. It kills about 300 children in the UK and 2,700 in the US each year, mostly between the ages of two months and four months.

In his latest study, Dr Elhaik looked at SIDS and MNC data across 15 countries. The study was limited to countries where post-mortem examination of infants was mandatory. He collected data on SIDS and MNC from these countries, which included 40 states in the US.


The results showed that there was a strong correlation between MNC and SIDS. English-speaking countries where MNC rates were high also had high rates of SIDS, which was hypothesized beforehand. And he found that MNC was the best measure of SIDS rates across the data.

“There is no such thing as ‘safe MNC,’” Dr Elhaik said. “MNC is a major risk factor for SIDS as well as for other illnesses and thereby MNC should be immediately stopped and postponed to a much later time.”

He noted how historically, some countries have struggled with SIDS. He pointed out that in the 16th century, Jews in Israel – where circumcision is prevalent – blamed the deaths on a Babylonian goddess called Lilith. But the evidence suggests early circumcision is a major cause.

Previous studies have attempted to find a genetic explanation for SIDS, with little success. While the MNC link does not apply to all such deaths, Dr Elhaik argues it should be seriously regarded as a major factor going forward.


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