SIDS Breakthrough – Could Babies Be Screened At Birth?

SIDS Breakthrough – Could Babies Be Screened At Birth?

If you speak with any new parent, SIDS is a top concern for many.

It’s also a top public health concern which is evident during any health checkup for your baby.

You’re likely reminded of safe sleep guidelines and lifestyle choices which can reduce the risk of SIDS.

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), also referred to as cot death, is the sudden unexplained death of an infant.

SIDS Breakthrough – Could Babies Be Screened At Birth?

For parents and professionals alike, the ability to screen babies for SIDS would be a massive breakthrough.

Well, researchers at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead, are one step closer to possibly making this a reality.

What Did Researchers Find?

One of the most challenging aspects in reducing the rate of SIDS is that professionals aren’t exactly sure how and why SIDS occurs. We know risk factors exist, but what exactly causes SIDS hasn’t been confirmed.

We know that unsafe sleeping conditions, cigarette smoke during pregnancy and exposure after, and not breastfeeding can increase the risk of SIDS. But none of those things are actual causes of SIDS.

The researchers at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead compared the levels of orexin in the brain of infants who died of SIDS with levels of infants whose death wasn’t related to SIDS.

Orexin is a neuropeptide which regulates sleep arousal in babies. The babies whose death was ruled as SIDS had up to 20% lower levels of orexin than infants whose cause of death wasn’t SIDS.

With lower levels of orexin, it’s possible the babies weren’t naturally aroused during sleep when necessary.

If There’s A Cause For SIDS, Why Does Sleep Safety Matter?

This study could answer why sleep safety was able to reduce SIDS rates even if we weren’t aware of the potential orexin connection. We’re still not certain that orexin levels are a cause of SIDS, but we are certain that sleep safety reduces death in infants.

Sleep safety guidelines revolve around reducing opportunities for baby’s airway to be compromised as well as helping baby be easily aroused.

If a baby is predisposed to having difficulty waking, they’re more susceptible to the risk of plush bedding, being unable to move away from a soft mattress, or being unable to turn their face when asleep on their belly.

Breastfed babies tend to rouse more easily which could explain it’s natural protective benefits against SIDS.

While SIDS is something we’re all concerned about, sleep safety also protects against accidental suffocation.

Even if we’re able to pinpoint and prevent SIDS based on orexin levels, sleep safety will remain an important component of keeping your baby safe.

When Will There Be A Screening For SIDS?

While the discovery of varying orexin levels in babies who died of SIDS is a huge breakthrough, it’s not a definitive cause. Before a screening test could be made available, more research needs to be done.

Researchers do hope that this breakthrough in understanding SIDS could lead to a breakthrough in identifying and treating at-risk babies.

What Treatment Might Be Available For At Risk Babies?

If a screening eventually becomes available, researchers hope to have a way to supplement and increase orexin levels.

It could also lead to making more informed decisions about infant care and sleep safety, as well as being watchful for sleep apnea as an at-risk child grows.

Other researchers have already found a link between orexin levels and other sleep disorders such as narcolepsy and obstructive sleep apnea.

While more research is needed in general, it is possible orexin levels and a potential supplement could protect against SIDS and other sleep disorders.

What Can I Do To Protect My Baby From SIDS?

While SIDS is a concern among parents, the actual risk of SIDS is still very low. It doesn’t make sleep safety any less important, but it is good to know to prevent becoming overly fearful.

What we do know for sure is that sleep safety absolutely reduces the risk of SIDS and accidental suffocation. Safe sleep guidelines and ways to reduce SIDS include:

  • Always place baby on her back to sleep
  • Keep baby’s head and face uncovered
  • Avoid smoke exposure during pregnancy and in the home with baby
  • Baby should be placed to sleep on a firm mattress free of plush bedding and items, and entrapment hazards
  • Never place baby to sleep on a couch or arm chair
  • Breastfeed your baby if you can
  • Have baby room in with an adult caregiver while sleeping on a safe sleep surface.

You can read more about SIDS in BellyBelly’s article: SIDS Prevention – 6 Ways To Reduce The Risk.

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