Anxiously peering over the edge of your baby's crib, you watch for the reassuring up and down movement of his tiny chest, straining to hear the slightest hint of rhythmic breathing. You don't leave his room until you've assured yourself all is well.
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. It's every parent's worst nightmare. And for good reason: SIDS is the leading cause of death in infants between 1 month and 1 year old, claiming the lives of 3,000 infants in the United States each year.
There is good news, however. In recent years, the number of SIDS deaths has decreased substantially. Thanks to new research and the highly successful Back to Sleep campaign, today's parents have more reason for hope than ever before when it comes to preventing SIDS.
The Back to Sleep effort encourages parents to put babies to sleep on their backs rather than their tummies or sides. Although the reasons are unclear, experts have found that babies who sleep on their backs are at far less risk of SIDS.
Medical practitioners also point to the following steps you should take to lower your baby's chances of a SIDS death:
Avoid smoking while pregnant. Also, try to keep your baby away from people who smoke.
Replace a soft crib mattress with one that is firm and supportive.
Keep pillows, comforters and soft toys out of your baby's crib.
Breast-feed, if possible.
Limit caffeine during pregnancy and while nursing.
While the causes of SIDS are still unknown, a promising new study offers one possible explanation. For almost 20 years, a group of medical researchers from Italy tracked the health of 34,000 infants 1 month to 1 year old. Using electrocardiogram testing, the study found a unifying link among all the infants who died of SIDS.
The answer appears to lie in the length of a baby's QT interval, a time interval in his or her cardiac cycle. Put simply, the QT interval is the time it takes for the heart to contract and recharge its battery for its next beat. Researchers found that infants who eventually died from SIDS measured prolonged QT intervals.
Experts are guardedly optimistic about the findings of this study, which have yet to be confirmed by other research. Still, this evidence is the first of its kind to validate the theory of cardiac dysrhythmia as a cause of SIDS.
Although researchers caution against over emphasizing these results, the findings are encouraging. Empowered by this knowledge, medical practitioners, as well as parents, can now become pro-active. Families who have already lost a child to SIDS can have all subsequent children tested within the first week of life for any cardiac abnormalities.
If your child is found to have a prolonged QT interval, a pediatric cardiologist can provide further assessment. The cardiologist will probably recommend therapy consisting of Inderal, an oral medication that regulates the cardiac cycle and may help prevent SIDS.
For more information regarding SIDS, check out the following Web sites: American Academy of Pediatrics, www.aap.org; American Sudden Infant Death Syndrome Institute, www.sids.org; National Sudden Infant Death Syndrome Resource Center,www.circsol.com/sids/.
?Sharon Bahrych, PA-C, MPH
Physician's assistant, medical writer
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