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Researchers from Harvard Medical School and Children's Hospital Boston annouced today that they may have found the reason why babies are so vunerable to sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS.
Infants who died of SIDS had 26 percent lower levels of serotonin, which helps regulate automatic functions according to the study published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The study performed autopsies on 41 babies who had died of SIDS to brainstems of seven babies who died of other causes and five babies who were hospitalized with low oxygen levels before their deaths. Researchers believe a low level of serotonin may be the "fundamental abnormality" in babies who die from SIDS. If serotonin levels are too low a baby won't wake up when breathing is disrupted.
Unfortunately, there are no tests to determine serotonin levels in infants. According to USA Today, doctors eventually hope to use their discovery to screen babies for serotonin problems and find a way to protect them, says co-author David Paterson, also of Harvard and Children's Hospital. Those developments are still years away, he says.
The number of babies who die of sudden infant death syndrome has dropped over the last 20 years, thanks to campaigns urging parents to put babies to sleep only on their backs. To avoid the risk of SIDS, here are some important tips to protect your baby from SIDS, suffocation and accidents during sleep:
• Always place your baby to sleep on her back!
• The safest place for your baby to sleep is in a safety-approved crib with a firm mattress that fits snugly and is covered with only a sheet.
• Remove all soft and fluffy bedding and other items from the sleep area. This includes blankets, pillows, bumper pads, positioners and stuffed animals.
• Adult beds can be dangerous for sleeping babies. Bring your baby into bed to breastfeed and bond, but when it is time to go to sleep, place your baby in her own separate space alongside your bed for at least the first six months.
• Use a wearable blanket or other type sleeper instead of blankets to keep your baby warm and safe.
• Never fall asleep with your baby on a sofa or armchair.
• Make sure your baby has a safe place to sleep when visiting or traveling.
Katy Elliott is Fit Pregnancy magazine's web editor.