It's every parent's biggest fear. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, most commonly known as SIDS, is the unexplained death of an infant under one year of age. Because of it, there are many safety measures parents take to keep their little one safe. They put their baby to sleep on the back, avoid smoking, and limit bed-sharing, especially if they've been drinking or taken medication. But, the scariest thing about SIDS is that it has no warning and no discernible cause. Recently, however, researchers have been asking the is SIDS genetic and, if so, are we close to finding a way to prevent it for good?
The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health Human Development's (NIHCD) Safe to Sleep campaign (formerly known as the Back to Sleep campaign) was developed to share research and tools that can help parents and caregivers reduce a child's risk of SIDS. The NIHCD has found that it is unlikely that a single defective gene is what causes SIDS. More likely, it is the result of the combination of a problematic gene combined with one or more environmental factors that increase the risk of SIDS.
For example, two infants can have the same defective gene, but one may come down with a respiratory infection, and that combination could result in SIDS. Therefore researchers cannot say that a single faulty gene will cause SIDS.
According to WebMD, researcher and professor of pathology Hannah Kinney found that a deficiency of serotonin in the brain stem may be related to most SIDS cases. Serotonin controls vital sleep functions such as breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure.
Additionaly, Dallas Morning News, reported that Marta Cohen, a pediatric pathologist at Sheffield Children’s Hospital in England, found that 10 to 15 percent of SIDS cases are linked to babies with a genetic predisposition for a heart rhythm disorder that can go undetected and lead to cardiac arrest.
There is ongoing research on the causes of SIDS and its links to genetics, and there are still no definitive answers. In the meantime, parents should follow the NIHCD guidelines for infant sleep safety:
- Always put your baby to sleep on his or her back.
- Don't put blankets, crib bumpers, pillows, or toys in the baby's crib.
- Use a firm mattress and a fitted sheet.
- Use a pacifier not attached to a string at sleep time.
- Don't drink or smoke while pregnant, and don't allow anyone to smoke around your infant.
- Use a sleep sack or one-piece sleeper instead of a blanket
- Don't put your baby down to sleep on his or her stomach, or on his or her side.
- Keep baby's sleep area in the same room as the parents.
- Don't overdress or overheat your baby.