What You Need to Know About a New SIDS Study

Losing a child to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is both a mystery and a nightmare.

A new SIDS study has found that, though statistics have declined since the early 1990s when the “back to sleep” campaign started, there are still approximately 3,500 SIDS deaths in the United States annually. Despite the steep drop, that is still a lot of heartbreak without a lot of explanation.

(A) new study, published online Dec. 2 in the journal Pediatrics, adds to evidence that those public health messages worked, but it also highlights the role of other influences in SIDS risk, the researchers said.

New research has determined there are three primary factors that contribute to SIDS:

Sleep Position

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommended parents put infants on their back to sleep in 1992, which — coupled with a decrease in soft bedding — was effective in decreasing the number of SIDS deaths in the United States.

Putting children to sleep on their backs is still recommended, but sleep position is no longer the primary cause of SIDS.

“These days most infants diagnosed with SIDS are not found sleeping prone [on the belly],” Dr. Richard Goldstein, the study’s lead researcher, tells HealthDay.

If sleep position were the only factor, parents could sleep easy knowing everything is under control. Unfortunately, though, research is showing that isn’t the case.

“The ‘Back to Sleep’ campaign has been one of the most successful public health campaigns of our time, but the sleep environment is not the whole story.” – Goldstein

Intrinsic Factors

The new study defines intrinsic risks as those involving genetic, developmental and environmental factors.

Boys and preterm babies are at increased risk for SIDS as are babies whose mothers drink and smoke during pregnancy. In fact, the decline of SIDS in the early 1990s correlates with a decline of mothers drinking and smoking while pregnant.

According to the study published Dec. 2 in the journal Pediatrics, breastfed babies also seem to be less susceptible than bottle-fed babies.

“*If we are to further impact infant mortality rates and eliminate SIDS, focus on the sleep environment will continue to be important, but will likely be insufficient,” Dr. Rachel Moon and Dr. Fern Hauck, both at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, who were not involved in the new study, wrote in a related editorial also published in the journal. – Livescience.com

Research is also showing that “underlying biology” increases the risk, said Goldstein.

“It’s thought, for example, that infants who die of SIDS have abnormalities in the brain system that normally rouses someone from sleep if there’s not enough oxygen,” writes the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Critical Period of Development

The final factor is the period of development. Babies who are younger than six months of age have a higher risk of SIDS. When intrinsic factors or a poor sleep environment collide with that age, the worst can happen.

The problem is that the deaths that are still occurring are a mystery.

“We’ve hit a plateau,” Goldstein said. “And if we’re going to get any farther, we need to better understand the factors that make children vulnerable. SIDS is still a mystery, and we need to apply science to try to explain it.”

As researchers continue looking into the root causes of SIDS, it is recommended that mothers avoid alcohol and smoking during pregnancy, get  prenatal care, and use appropriate bedding.

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