The nation”s largest group of pediatricians is recommending for the first time that all suspected cases of sudden infant death syndrome be investigated by a child abuse expert because of growing fears that some such deaths are murders.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the government already recommend death-scene investigations and autopsies for all SIDS cases.

It is virtually impossible “to distinguish at autopsy between SIDS and accidental or deliberate asphyxiation with a soft object,” said Dr. Kent Hymel, a member of the academy”s child-abuse committee, which wrote the updated guidelines.

The new guidelines say that unless the autopsy examiner is a child abuse expert, a pre-autopsy exam should be performed by a specialist.

While cases of parents killing their babies are rare, more thorough investigations would probably reveal that some suspected SIDS cases are murders, Hymel said.

The updated guidelines were published in the February issue of the journal Pediatrics. They mostly reaffirm the guidelines issued by the 55,000-member academy in 1999.

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