New study investigates possible cause of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome but does not change safer sleep advice

The Lullaby Trust has restated the importance of following safer sleep guidelines in response to news reports about a new study which investigates possible causes of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).  

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, when a baby dies suddenly and unexpectedly with no clear cause of death, is a distressing topic and we know it can bring up lots of emotion for parents. Because of this, news about any breakthrough in understanding how or why SIDS might happen is often shared quickly and widely among parenting groups, and you may have seen headlines which imply that the cause of SIDS is now known. This is not exactly true.  

A new study has been published which attempts to identify whether babies with naturally lower levels of a specific enzyme (butyrylcholinesterase, or BChE) are at a higher risk of SIDS. The study, published in the latest issue of medical journal eBioMedicine, studies blood samples from 722 babies in Australia, and finds that there is a possible correlation between lower levels of BChE and SIDS. 

This may be a huge step forward in our understanding of SIDS, however this paper is an initial investigation using a relatively small sample of babies. Although their findings are important and exciting for the future of research, it does not conclusively prove a connection that we can use to prevent SIDS, nor does it offer any indication that parents should change their approach to safer sleeping. In fact, the report states: “This finding represents the possibility for the identification of infants at risk for SIDS …  and opens new avenues for future research into specific interventions.” 

Several news sites have reported this study in a way which implies we now know the cause of SIDS and so can relax our approach to safer sleeping. This is not true, safer sleeping guidelines are still the best way to reduce the risk of SIDS for all babies.  

In response to the headlines this study has generated, The Lullaby Trust has published a statement highlighting the importance of following safer sleep guidance for your little one: 

“We’re aware of this study and some media headlines stating a potential cause of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) has been found. This study looks to identify a biomarker that could help detect babies more at risk of SIDS, and we urge caution when reporting on any research around ‘causes’ of SIDS. Claims that a cause of SIDS has been found could give false hope to families whose baby has died suddenly and unexpectedly and may downplay the continued importance of the safer sleep advice... 

“While research is underway, we urge all parents and carers with infants to continue following the evidence-based safer sleep advice to reduce the risk of SIDS occurring. This includes: always sleeping baby on their back in a clear sleep space on a flat, firm and waterproof mattress with no bulky bedding, pillows or cot bumpers. This advice has secured significant decreases in the number of babies dying of SIDS.” 

You can find The Lullaby Trust's safer sleeping advice, with evidence and advice for all sleeping preferences, including co-sleeping, on their website, https://www.lullabytrust.org.uk/safer-sleep-advice/  

 

Further reading 

You can find the study published in eBioMedicine (Volume 80, June 2022) here: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ebiom.2022.104041   

https://www.lullabytrust.org.uk/our-response-to-new-australian-sids-biomarker-study/ 

If you’d like to read more about how the study has been received, economics professor and researcher Emily Oster has written an analysis of the study and the news coverage it has received: https://emilyoster.substack.com/p/new-study-on-sids-is-not-what-the?s=r