Always place baby on his or her back to sleep, for naps and at night, to reduce the risk of SIDS. Image Credit: Shutterstock

A recent study published in the peer-reviewed British journal ‘eBioMedicine’ suggests that a dip in a certain enzyme may be linked to sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS.

The research was based on a hypothesis that many infant SIDS deaths occur when a baby is unable to wake themselves up when they can’t breathe. The neurotransmitter acetylcholine has been linked to arousal (ACh); it’s regulated by the enzymes enzymes butyrylcholinesterase (BChE) and acetylcholinesterase (AChE).


The researchers therefore studied the levels of these two enzyme levels in blood samples from babies who had died of SIDS, comparing these with blood from healthy infants and those who had died of known causes.

The study found the levels of BChE were lower in the samples of blood from SIDS-related deaths. The finding has been lauded, however lead study author and SIDS researcher Carmel Harrington, who lost her own son to SIDS, was quoted as saying by US magazine 'The Scientist': “A biomarker does not equal cause and what we have found is a potential biomarker and not a cause.”

Still, it does provide a starting point for more research, she believes.

What exactly is SIDS?

US-based Mayo Clinic explains that when a seemingly healthy baby less than a year old dies without cause – usually while sleeping – it’s called Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

What are some factors that predispose a child to SIDS?

There’s a combination of physical and environmental factors that may have a negative effect on a child. These include:

Physical factors

Brain defects: “In many of these babies, the portion of the brain that controls breathing and arousal from sleep hasn't matured enough to work properly,” explains Mayo Clinic.

Low birth weight: A child who is born prematurely – i.e. before 37 weeks of gestation – is more vulnerable to SIDS owing to a brain that has not matured.

Respiratory infections: “Many infants who died of SIDS had recently had a cold, which might contribute to breathing problems,” says Mayo Clinic.

Sleep environment factors

  • Overheating
  • Sleeping on a soft surface
  • Sleeping on the stomach or side
  • Sharing a bed with parents
Share a room, not a bed
Malin Ghavami, Lead midwife and Head Nurse at Nightingale Dubai, suggests a side bed-cot attached to the parents’ bed. “Co-sleeping is not advised for the first year in babies life, as this is the time when the risk for SIDS is relevant, the risk of both suffocating and overheating is increased while co-sleeping,” she says.

Preventive measures

The US Department of Health and Human Services offers the following advice to reduce the chances of SIDS:

  • Always place baby on his or her back to sleep, for naps and at night, to reduce the risk of SIDS.
  • Use a firm and flat sleep surface, such as a mattress in a crib, covered by a fitted sheet with no other bedding or soft items in the sleep area.
  • Share your room with baby. Keep baby in your room close to your bed, but on a separate surface designed for infants, ideally for baby’s first year, but at least for the first six months.
  • Do not put soft objects, toys, crib bumpers, or loose bedding under baby, over baby, or anywhere in baby’s sleep area.

To reduce the risk of SIDS, women should:

  • Get regular prenatal care during pregnancy.
  • Avoid smoking, drinking and alcohol during pregnancy or after the baby is born.
  • Do not allow smoking around your baby or in your baby’s environment.
  • Think about giving your baby a pacifier for naps and nighttime sleep to reduce the risk of SIDS.
  • Do not let your baby get too hot during sleep.
  • Give your baby plenty of tummy time when he or she is awake and someone is watching.
What is tummy time?
Tummy Time refers to the period an infant will spend on his or her stomach when awake. It is important for his or her motor, visual and sensory skill development. US-based Mayo Clinic suggests: "Start tummy time by spreading out a blanket in a clear area. After a diaper change or nap, place your baby on his or her stomach on the blanket for three to five minutes. Try doing this two to three times a day. As your baby gets used to tummy time, place your baby on his or her stomach more frequently or for longer periods of time."

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