Sudden infant death syndrome may one day be preventable, with the help of the results of a study published this past February. Although the causes of SIDS are often mysterious, researchers think they’ve found a mechanism that may play a key role in this unfortunate occurrence.
Doctors don’t know for certain what causes SIDS, but it seems to relate to difficulty waking up and trouble regulating carbon dioxide in the baby’s blood. Researchers recently found which portion of the infant brain is responsible for developing this monitoring ability, which may help predict which babies are particularly at risk. There are some known risk factors right now:
- Sleeping face-down, particularly on soft bedding
- Co-sleeping, baby and parents sleeping in the same bed
- Multiple or premature births, or less than a year between pregnancies
- Poverty or insufficient prenatal care
- Siblings who died of SIDS
The relationship between these factors and incidence of SIDS is not clearly understood; campaigns to encourage parents to put their babies down to sleep on their backs have substantially reduced SIDS deaths in the past 20 years.
Another factor is having a mother who smokes. Secondhand smoke, and prenatal secondhand smoke, appears to be implicated in many cases of SIDS. Infants who died this way have high levels of nicotine, and of other substances associated with being around smokers. The toxins in cigarette smoke can affect fetuses before birth.
That’s one reason it’s important for expectant mothers—and their partners—to quit smoking during and after pregnancy. Other ways to prevent SIDS are getting good pre- and neo-natal medical care, putting the baby to sleep in a crib (not an adult bed) with a firm mattress, not overclothing the baby, and being careful not to expose the baby to respiratory infections.