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Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) - A New Breakthrough?

January 4, 2014

Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is marked by the sudden death of an infant that is not predicted by medical history and remains unexplained after a thorough forensic autopsy and detailed death scene investigation. It is sometimes referred to as cot death, or crib death.

SIDS is a leading cause of death in infants although it has been declining through public awareness campaigns.  

SIDS occurs when an infant with an underlying, biological vulnerability who is at a critical development age is exposed to an external trigger. Risk factors have been identified. These include:

  • Exposure to cigarette smoke, especially from maternal smoking, or in the womb

  • Placing an infant to sleep while lying on the stomach or the side, especially between two to three months of age

  • Elevated or reduced room temperature

  • Excessive bedding, clothing, soft sleep surfaces, stuffed animals.

  • Sharing a bed with parents or siblings, especially in the first three months of life, when the bed is soft, when more than one other person is present, or when the bed partners are using drugs or alcohol or are smoking.

  • Maternal age. Teenage mothers are at greater risk, and SIDS rates decrease with increasing maternal age

  • Delayed or inadequate prenatal care, premature birth, lack of breastfeeding, anemia, age of infant (SIDS incidence rises from zero at birth, is highest from two to four months of age, and declines toward zero after the infant's first year) and male infants have a 50% higher risk of SIDS than female




Sudden Infant Death Syndrome causes extreme feelings of grief, as it involves the death of an infant, it is unexpected, unexplained and there is an investigation. It is therefore a complex and distressing event that impacts families and others in the short and long term.


However, on December 4th 2013, the Australian Herald Sun's Brigid O'Connel reported a new breakthrough in the field of SIDS research.


 In the Working together, an international research team from Boston Children’s Hospital, Flory Institute of Neuro-science and Mental Health’s Dr. Jhodie Duncan, have analysed the brains of 71 infants who died suddenly and unexpectedly over the last 11 years.


They discovered that they all had abnormalities of four neurochemicals in the brain stem. The brain stem is at the base of the skull and connects the brain to the spinal cord. The brain stem keeps blood pressure and oxygen levels constant in response to changing factors in the environment.


The recent research, published in the journal, Pediatrics, suggest that this abnormality left the infants unable to respond if faced with a sleep stressor.


Dr. Duncan stated, "In a healthy infant, if a pillow goes over their face, the brain normally detects changes in oxygen levels and initiates arousal Reponses. The baby would turn its head and continue breathing".


Researchers believe that infants with the abnormality do not respond in this way, which leads to death. They suggest that there are numerous episodes that occur, until finally the Infant does not respond…………….and that night they die.


Researchers will now focus on finding a way to Identify at risk infants, which may be a hearing test or blood test.


UK research found babies who died of SIDS had worse hearing than other infants.


Therefore the latest discovery will benefit many hundreds of children worldwide.

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