New SIDS Study Reveals That There’s More To It Than Just The Baby’s Sleeping Environment

A new SIDS study reveals that there’s more to the poorly-understood phenomenon than just the baby’s sleep environment, Philadelphia Inquirer is reporting.

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) occurs when an otherwise healthy baby, under 1-year-old, dies unexpectedly and for no apparent reason, according to American Family Physician. SIDS is the leading cause of death among healthy infants, claiming some 2,200 lives per year.

Since 1994, however, SIDS deaths have plummeted dramatically in the U.S. The reason for that drop can be attributed to the Back to Sleep campaign, which encourages parents to put babies to sleep on their backs, rather than on their stomachs.

The Safe to Sleep campaign, also called "Back to Sleep." [Image via National Institutes of Health via Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain]

“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 These days, most infants diagnosed with SIDS are not found sleeping prone [on the belly].”

Besides the Back to Sleep campaign, other advances in prenatal care and public health have helped reduce the number of SIDS deaths worldwide. Far fewer pregnant mothers smoke than they did a generation ago

The new SIDS study concluded that there are two other major factors that expose an infant to the risk of SIDS, besides the baby’s sleep evnironment.

“Intrinsic Risk”

Simply put, a baby may simply be born with certain conditions that predispose him or her to SIDS. Boys and preemies, for example, are more prone to SIDS; so are babies whose mothers smoked or drank during pregnancy. Babies that are breast-fed are at a slightly lower risk of SIDS compared to babies who are bottle-fed.

Critical Period of Development

While SIDS is, by definition, a phenomenon that affects children under 1-year of age, the new study confirms that infants under 6-months old are at the most critical phase of risk.

The results of the new study are of little comfort to parents who have already suffered the devastation of losing a child to SIDS, admits Dr. Goldstein.

“I work with a lot of parents whose children have died from SIDS, and the general climate is one where, because of the success of controlling the sleep environment, the parents often feel that they are responsible for the deaths of their children.”

Besides the Back to Sleep campaign, other advances in prenatal care and public health have helped reduce the number of SIDS deaths worldwide. Far fewer pregnant mothers smoke than they did a generation ago, exposing fewer babies to the risk of SIDS. Further, certain drugs given during pregnancy can speed the lung development of a fetus in danger of being born preterm.

Still, despite advances in medical care and public health, SIDS remains poorly understood, and Dr. Goldstein says that more research is needed.

“We’ve hit a plateau. 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.”

In the meantime, the best mothers can do to prevent SIDS is to avoid smoking and drinking, get good prenatal care, and control the baby’s sleeping environment.

[Image via Shutterstock/Tomsickova Tatyana]