New SIDS Discovery Could Mean We'll Be Able to Screen Babies -- & Prevent Deaths

peaceful sleeping baby
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There are so many things that can frighten a new parent, but no matter how many measures we take to educate ourselves and protect our babies, one thing remains so incredibly frightening because of its ability to strike without warning. Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is the leading cause of death among children ages 1 and under, and it has researchers working on the double to figure out more ways to prevent these unexplained deaths. Now, it looks like we might be one step closer. Experts believe they've found a key that could help screen babies for their risk of SIDS -- and potentially save lives.

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Researchers involved with the study, published in the journal Acta Neuropathologica, found that infants who die from SIDS often have low levels of an important brain protein that is thought to play a significant role in sleep arousal. It's believed that some children who die from sudden infant death syndrome did not have enough orexin, a brain protein that helps manage wakefulness and that would alert them to wake up should their oxygen intake be compromised due to rolling over or sleeping facedown. 

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Experts at the Children's Hospital at Westmead in Australia examined 46 cases of babies dying, and found that 27 resulted from sudden infant death syndrome. Researchers discovered that the babies who died from SIDS had orexin levels that were 21 percent lower than those of children who died from other causes.

A lack of orexin is also thought to play a factor with sleep apnea in adults.

Many associated with this study believe discovering the important role orexin plays is the revelation doctors need, proving SIDS is more sleep-related than we thought.

Dr. Rita Machaalani, research group leader and sleep unit manager at the Children's Hospital at Westmead, tells the Daily Telegraph (Australia), "It's linked that there is a sleep-related issue, which we've always known because the babies die in their sleep, but we didn't know what it was linked to, but this protein seems to be a major player in it."

Pretty amazing, right?

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The study's research team now plans to determine what the ideal level of orexin is in babies, which, hopefully, will lead to some sort of tool or screening test doctors can use to help prevent SIDS once and for all.

"If we can determine what's the normal level in babies when born, then we can use those abnormalities to predict kids that might be at risk in the future of SIDS or sleep apnea," Dr. Machaalani adds.

Parents would welcome a SIDS screening test for babies with open arms. The thought of a precious child dying unexpectedly is enough to keep any one of us up at night. Most moms and dads try to heed the warnings for preventing sudden infant death syndrome -- like not allowing LO to sleep on the tummy, not smoking during pregnancy or using tobacco-related products after childbirth, and removing excessive bedding and sleepwear -- but sometimes, that's not enough.

As Dr. Machaalani points out to the Daily Telegraph, "Parents aren't doing those (risky) things anymore and yet babies are still dying -- why would one baby die and another baby in the same situation not die? There has got to be something underlying that."

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Let's cross our fingers that these researchers can develop the necessary tool to help detect which babies are more susceptible to SIDS. Maybe then those parents could take extra precautions and be spared the unfathomable heartbreak of losing a baby this way.

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