Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), sometimes known as cot death, is an otherwise healthy baby’s unexplained and unexpected death. Around 200 babies die from SIDS in the UK each year, according to the NHS. This statistic can sound alarming, but the risk is very low. New research published in the journal eBioMedicine suggests that there could be a potential biomarker for sudden infant death syndrome.
Sudden infant death syndrome is the unexplained, sudden death of a baby when no cause or reason of death can be found.
In the UK, around 200 babies die suddenly and unexpectedly a year. This number is much smaller than it was, thanks to charities and scientists researching risk factors in babies.
Most sudden infant death syndrome cases involve babies under six months, with babies aged months 2-4 being the highest risk. However, cases in the UK have fallen drastically in recent years thanks to the ‘Back to Sleep’ campaign launched in 1991.
The ‘Back to Sleep’ campaign was launched after research found that babies sleeping on their front were more likely to suffer from cot death. Parents can also reduce the risk of SIDS by avoiding smoking in pregnancy and when the baby is born. Co-sleeping can also be a risk factor if the parent or carer has had alcohol, smoked, taken drugs or is exhausted.
There is a lot of uncertainty about the causes of SIDS. However, medical professionals believe the deaths are usually due to a combination of factors, from environmental stresses like pregnant smoking, to stomach sleeping. If the overall cause of SIDS is found, health professionals might be able to identify babies that are at higher risk and work with parents to reduce the risk as far as possible.
While we cannot completely prevent SIDS, there are ways to reduce risk factors considerably.
Sleeping on the back: ensure babies are always put to sleep on their backs, day or night. Research shows back sleeping can reduce SIDS by up to six times compared to sleeping on their front.
Share a room: sleeping in the same room as your baby for the first six months can halve the risk of SIDS.
Do not share a bed: if you or your partner have been smoking, drinking, taking drugs or feeling exhausted. These factors can put babies at a much higher risk of SIDS.
Smoke-free: around 60% of sudden infant deaths could be avoided if the baby is not exposed to smoke during pregnancy or at home.
New research published in eBioMedicine found babies at risk of SIDS may have lower levels of an enzyme that regulates breathing. Some experts believe the study may have found that babies with parents who smoke could have lower levels of the enzyme that regulates breathing, as they did not have direct access to the babies themselves.
Research is important for parents and families as it could mean that preventative measures can be taken if there is a direct cause. But research is still in the early stages. Parents should still take preventive measures to minimise risk to their babies.
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