Baby sleep

SIDS: New study highlights brain abnormalities

What does the new study showing correlations between SIDS and abnormal circuits in the brain mean for your family?

SIDS baby sleeping

Photo: iStockphoto

It’s every parent’s worst fear, and the reason we spent more time than we’d ever admit sneaking a last peek into the nursery or the bassinette, listening for a sigh or groan, reaching in the dark to feel that soft rise and fall of our baby’s chest. She’s breathing, we’d think. She’s fine. Of course she is. Go back to sleep.

As a new parent, you can’t escape the fear of SIDS, or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. The name sums up the terror of it — a mysterious affliction no one can quite pinpoint the cause of, that snatches seemingly healthy babies away in their sleep. But what if scientists answered parents’ wildest prayers and found a cause — and a cure?

Read more: Safe sleep for babies>

We may be one step closer to finding those answers. This week, a study was released from researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital showing that infants who died of SIDS had similar abnormal circuits in the brain stem, indicating that there is an underlying condition that may eventually help identify babies at risk.

As reported by the Toronto Star, this is the part of the brain that controls breathing, heart rate, blood pressure and temperature control during sleep, which means these babies’ systems for controlling such vital functions are compromised. As a result, they may not be able to wake themselves up when they become overheated or have trouble breathing.

Lead investigator Dr. Hannah Kinney, who has been researching SIDS for 20 years, emphasizes that these findings won’t eliminate the importance of the safe sleep guidelines that are hammered into new parents’ brains but rather strengthens their importance, since these babies cannot respond to a potentially asphyxiating situation. Investigators are now studying ways to detect this distinct brain cell chemistry, with the hopes of one day being able to identify babies who are most at risk.

Read more: Time-tested sleep solutions>

It’s a good reminder that safe sleep guidelines are vital, regardless of how our parents put us to bed:

— Always put your baby to bed on her back, on a firm flat surface.
— Be sure your crib or bassinette meets current safety standards, and has a tightly-fitting mattress.
— Keep your baby’s sleep area free of clutter, and never use bumper pads or soft bedding, pillows, stuffed animals, or other items that may cover your baby’s face.
— Keep your baby’s room at a comfortable, not hot, temperature.

Learn more important info on sleep environments that could potentially be dangerous for your little one at SIDS Canada.

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