Researchers Closing in on a Likely Cause of SIDS
First Candle, leading national nonprofit, plays key role in supporting the project
[Baltimore, MD – February 2, 2010) First Candle today announced that researchers at Children’s Hospital Boston have further linked low serotonin levels in the brainstems of babies to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS. The research team’s most recent study, being published in the February 3rd issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, compared brainstems of babies who died of SIDS with brainstems of babies who died of other, known causes. The results of the study are compelling and send a strong message to new and expectant parents, particularly since SIDS remains the leading cause of death for babies one month to one year of age in the United States.
First Candle salutes Dr. Hannah Kinney and her research team for their untiring efforts to unlock what was once thought to be the mystery of SIDS. “After more than 20 years of research, we may now be able to move forward in identifying babies at risk and developing preventive treatments to correct this serotonin deficiency,” said Kinney. In the study, the SIDS babies had 25 percent less serotonin in their lower brainstem and 22 percent lower levels of tryptophan hydroxylase, the enzyme that makes serotonin. Levels of binding to the serotonin receptors were 50 percent lower in the SIDS babies, signifying that a serotonin defect in the brainstem was most likely involved in the death of these babies.
As this defect probably occurs during pregnancy, good prenatal care is of utmost importance. “There is no safe amount of alcohol, smoking or second-hand smoke that is safe for pregnant women,” said Kinney. The Harvard team and other researchers are also exploring a possible genetic cause for this defect.
The study results also send a strong message to parents with newborns. “We now know that there is likely a physical reason that many of these babies die,” says Dr. Rachel Moon, Chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Task force on SIDS. “And when babies with this defect are placed to sleep in unsafe places, the results can be disastrous.” For babies with low serotonin levels, re-breathing carbon dioxide (exhaled air) and overheating during sleep can be fatal. Parents need to do all they can to make sure their baby is ALWAYS placed to sleep on his or her back and in a safe place.
“There is a misconception among new mothers that sleeping with their baby will somehow protect the baby from SIDS,” said Laura Reno, Vice President of Public Affairs for First Candle. “This couldn’t be further from the truth. SIDS is a fatal event – the baby doesn’t just stop breathing, his or her entire body shuts down. By the time you would notice that the baby stopped breathing, there would be nothing you could do to save the baby.”
As yet, we do not know which babies have this defect, so it’s important to protect all babies. Besides keeping babies in a smoke-free environment, here are things parents and caregivers should do to protect babies from SIDS:
- Make sure your baby is always placed to sleep in a safe place at naptime and nighttime.
- Babies need to sleep lying flat on their back on a firm mattress covered with only a sheet.
- Room sharing, or placing your baby’s crib or portable play yard in your bedroom is the safest. Put your baby’s crib or portable play yard alongside your bed for at least the first six months.
- Try and feed your baby only breast milk for at least the first six months. Room sharing helps make breastfeeding easier.
- Soft bedding and other items are dangerous and can keep your baby from getting enough fresh oxygen or can cause suffocation. Remove all soft bedding and other items from your baby’s sleep space, including blankets, pillows and soft or pillow-like bumpers, when placing your baby down to sleep.
- Make sure your baby does not get too warm. Use lightweight sleep clothing and keep room temperature at what would be comfortable for a lightly clothed adult. If your baby has a fever, take extra care to be sure the baby does not get too warm.
- Use a wearable blanket or sleeper instead of loose blankets if needed to keep your baby warm.
- Research also shows that giving babies a pacifier when placing them down to sleep can significantly reduce the risk of SIDS.
The First Candle website at www.firstcandle.org, provides comprehensive information about these and other tips to protect their baby from SIDS, suffocation and accidents during sleep. Expectant parents can also learn more about good prenatal care and kick counting to help protect their baby from stillbirth.
“First Candle is proud to have sponsored Dr. Kinney’s research for the past two decades,” said Dr. Marian Sokol, President of First Candle. “We have our constituency to thank – the grieving families, members, partners and corporate sponsors – we wouldn’t have been able to do it without them. We are so close, it is critical that we continue to support this research . . . in the belief that every baby should live.”
For more information on how you can help, please call 1.800.221.7437 or donate now.
First Candle is a leading national nonprofit dedicated to safe pregnancies and the survival of babies through the first years of life. With programs of research, education and advocacy, the organization is working to ensure that every baby is given the best possible chance to reach not only his or her first birthday, but many happy birthdays beyond. First Candle also provides compassionate grief support to all those affected by the death of a baby. For more information, to access grief support or to make a donation, please visit www.firstcandle.org or call 1.800.221.7437.