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National Child Safety Expert, Alison Rhodes, “The Safety Mom,” is one of the country's leading child safety authorities, providing tips and advice to parents on a broad range of issues facing all children - newborns to teens.

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The Latest On SIDS
by Alison Rhodes

There is nothing that strikes more fear into a new parent than the thought of being unable to wake their infant. But unfortunately, for more than 2,000 parents every year this is exactly what happens when their baby succumbs to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

While SIDS is still unpreventable and unpredictable, the introduction of the Back To Sleep Campaign has decreased the number of cases by 50 percent. And now, researchers are coming closer to understanding SIDS. Below are a few facts so that parents have a better understanding of the latest information:

Closer to a cause?
In 2006, research conducted by Children's Hospital in Boston provided the strongest evidence yet that sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is not a "mystery" disease, but has a concrete biological basis. Their evidence suggests that a significant number of SIDS babies have a brain disorder. The abnormalities identified in this study suggest that there is a problem in the development of the brain that occurs in utero and after birth as well. The abnormalities identified as part of this study appear to affect the brainstem's ability to use and recycle serotonin, a brain chemical which plays a role in communications between brain cells. Serotonin is most well known for its role in regulating mood, but it also plays a role in regulating vital functions like breathing, heart rate, temperature, blood pressure and arousal. While the SIDS cases contained more serotonin using neurons, they appeared to contain fewer receptors for serotonin than did the control cases. The researchers also found that male SIDS infants had fewer serotonin receptors than did either female SIDS infants or control infants. The finding may provide insight into why SIDS affects roughly twice as many males as females. While this is encouraging news, the next step is to develop a diagnostic tool and drugs which will help those babies identified as high risk to get through the first six months of life.

Triple Risk Theory
Researchers have determined that along with this underlying physical cause, other elements need to be in place for SIDS to occur. One of them is timing. In a majority of cases, SIDS happens during a critical development period, which is the first six months of life where the baby is growing and developing very rapidly. This rapid growth can make a baby's system become unstable. The other element involves external stressors (outside or environmental challenges) which a normal baby can easily overcome and survive, but that an already vulnerable baby night not. Stressors such as exposure to second-hand smoke, tummy sleeping or an upper respiratory infection alone do not cause death for healthy infants, but could trigger a sudden, unexpected death in a vulnerable infant.

It's crucial that all caregivers consistently enforce SIDS risk reduction measures around your baby. These include:

  • Always placing your baby on his/her back to sleep. But allow for plenty of tummy time when awake!

  • Allowing your baby to only sleep in a safety-approved crib with a firm, tight fitting mattress covered with only a sheet

  • Removing all soft, fluffy or loose bedding and toys (including blankets, soft or fluffy bumpers and positioners)

  • Replacing blankets with sleep sacks or wearable blankets

  • Establishing a safe sleeping area within your room instead of in your bed

  • Never over-bundling your baby and keeping the room temperature between 68 - 72 F

For additional information, visit First Candle/SIDS Alliance's website at

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Featured Sites:

Cord Blood Registry
March of Dimes
Susan G. Komen

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