Finally – A Clue to Understanding SIDS

SIDS or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or “the death of an infant before his or her first sleeping safelybirthday that cannot be explained after a complete autopsy, an investigation of the scene and circumstances of the death, and a review of the medical history of the infant and of his or her family” is every parent’s worst nightmare. Finally, according to a new study whose findings were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association earlier this week, a new discovery may help identify babies at risk for SIDS, which each year kills more than 2,300 babies before their first birthday.

Taking the next step in more than 20 years of research, Dr. Hannah Kinney of Harvard Medical School and researchers at Children’s Hospital Boston have linked sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) with low production of serotonin in the brainstem. In the brainstem, serotonin helps regulate some of the body’s involuntary actions, such as breathing, heart rate and blood pressure during sleep. The findings suggest that some babies have an underlying vulnerability to SIDS, which can become fatal when combined with an external stress such as sleeping face down, especially when it occurs within the first year of life.

“Our research suggests that sleep unmasks the brain defect,” Kinney said in a statement. “When the infant is breathing in the face-down position, he or she may not get enough oxygen. In a normal baby rebreathing carbon dioxide, serotonin pathways in the brainstem would stir the baby awake long enough to turn its head, allowing it to breathe fresh air…a baby with low serotonin levels in the brainstem may never stir.”

The team hopes the study will lead to a test that measures a baby’s serotonin levels, making it possible to identify children at highest risk for SIDS….and possibly develop treatments to correct the serotonin deficiency.

Amazing how one small discovery can make such a tremendous impact.



About the Author

Stefanie Zucker is President and co-founder of Pediatric Medical and Managing Director and co-founder of Axios Partners, a strategy consulting firm. After a number of years spent researching the safety issues associated with transporting children on ambulances she became a child health safety advocate and formed Pediatric Safety with a goal of creating a world-wide movement of parents and caregivers inspired to protect the health and safety of kids. Stefanie is a member of the PedSafe Team


3 Responses to “Finally – A Clue to Understanding SIDS”

  1. katiedid says:

    you should pick a different picture. the baby shown is halfway on its side and is using a blanket. babies should sleep on their backs with no loose bedding in the crib as the best deterrent to SIDS.

    • Stefanie Zucker Stefanie Zucker says:

      I agree… strangely I had a terrible time locating a picture of an infant sleeping on their back. I searched again this evening and was able to find one.
      Thanks very much for your note 🙂

  2. its amazing what research can reveal – this was something that made me so nervous when all 3 of my kids were babies – i admit I still go in each night and hear for their breathing – I think it’s just habit now after 4 years!

    thanks for stopping by today – im following you now too
    .-= Jackie @ 3 Little Ones´s last blog ..Making The Bed =-.

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