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A hint, but no answers, to SIDS mystery

July 3, 2008 |  6:57 pm

Much is being made of the news of a possible connection between the brain chemical serotonin and the risk of sudden infant death syndrome.

As the Associated Press reports: "Now researchers in Italy have engineered mice born with serotonin that goes haywire — and found the brain abnormality is enough to spur sudden death, in ways that mesh with other clues from human babies."

The research, reported in the journal Science, contributes to other recent findings that could ultimately shed light on a way to predict, and prevent, such deaths.

But such concrete data is a long way off. In the meantime, parents should know there's much they can do to reduce risk to their babies in the here and now, even if we don't yet understand all of the underlying causes of SIDS.

For starters, put infants to sleep on their backs — and in their own beds. This message can be difficult to accept. Some parents, particularly nursing mothers, find it convenient to share a bed with their child. And the practice seems so nurturing and loving.

But doing so increases the chance that the infant will suffocate in the blankets or because an adult has rolled atop it.

The nation's SIDS cases have declined from 38,351 in 1990 to 27,936 in 1994, as the National Sudden Infant Death Resource Center notes with these statistics. The promotion of safer sleeping environments has played a key role in that reduction.

Check out the SIDS Information Web Site for a list, with explanation, of ways to reduce the likelihood of SIDS — while we wait for more answers.

— Tami Dennis