05/08/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Hope For SIDS Kids And Their Parents

Recently, a little bit of good news finally surfaced in the hunt for what causes sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS): abnormal serotonin levels in the baby's brain. 

This mysterious condition has long been a big black hole in scientific circles. Though rare, it's one of the most common causes of death in babies between one and 12 months of age. Now, a group of Boston doctors has found a potential link between kids at risk for SIDS and low levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which controls breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure during sleep. And too little serotonin could prevent a baby lying on its stomach from waking up to turn its head and breathe fresh air.

So what can you do if you worry about SIDS?

There currently is no test for newborns to determine if the risk for who may develop SIDS. It may take years for medicine to establish newborn screenings that help determine whether a baby's serotonin levels are abnormal. But there's plenty of evidence that a few simple practices in the nursery can help in prevention:

  • Make sure your baby sleeps on a tight-fitting mattress. Meaning there is no space between the mattress and the crib.
  • Avoid using crib bumpers.
  • Place babies on their backs to sleep--not their stomachs.
  • Try using a fan in the room to keep the room well-ventilated (babies who re-breathe carbon dioxide, presumably from their own exhalations, are at a higher risk for SIDS).

SIDS may not be cured tomorrow, but let's hope that good news on this research front keeps coming. That will make all parents of newborns sleep better at night.

Sweet Dreams,  

Michael J. Breus, PhD

The Sleep Doctor™

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This article on sleep is also available at Dr. Breus's official sleep blog, The Insomnia Blog.