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Are We Closer to Preventing SIDS?

Are We Closer to Preventing SIDS?

Every night, parents in every state and every country peek into their children’s rooms and watch their babies’ chests rise and fall with a sense of relief. Parenting styles may vary across cultures, but the fear of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is universal. In the U.S. alone, more than 1,200 infants die from SIDS each year, meaning that even after investigation, there’s no obvious cause of death.

Over time, we’ve learned that SIDS is most likely to occur in the first six months of life in babies asleep on their stomachs, prompting campaigns like “Back to Sleep” that educate caregivers on sleep practices that can drastically reduce the risk of SIDS. The shift to back sleeping has saved tens of thousands of lives since the 1990s, reducing cases of SIDS by 60 percent. Despite that success, there are still too many families grieving from SIDS-related loss.

Thanks to scientists in Australia, we now have new information that could eventually help us better identify children who are higher risk for SIDS. Researchers recently found an enzyme that plays a role in the brain’s ability to wake up. The enzyme was detected in lower levels in many babies who died from SIDS. It’s the first biochemical marker correlated to SIDS and could prompt new discoveries in screening and prevention.

While the new study is promising, experts caution that it’s only one step towards better understanding and preventing SIDS. It’s likely that SIDS is causes by a combination of factors that combine in tragedy. Further research is needed to learn more about the enzyme, normal levels, and how those levels change over time. If larger studies confirm that the enzyme is indeed a risk factor, we may be able to develop screenings that could alert parents if their child’s levels are low. For now, parents should continue to put babies to sleep on their backs, remove pillows, soft bedding and toys from sleep areas, avoid exposure to smoke, and consider using a pacifier to reduce risk. There are also several monitors available that can alert parents if their babies stop breathing, though they cannot prevent SIDS.