It’s every new parent’s worst nightmare: sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS. And it’s especially terrifying because it’s so unexpected, unexplained and seemingly at random.
So I was especially intrigued to read about research published recently in Australia that points to the first biochemical indicator of babies at risk for this devastating condition.
It’s an enzyme called butyrylcholinesterase, and it plays a major role in helping babies to wake up during the night if their breathing is interrupted. It turns out that babies who died as a result of SIDS had significantly lower levels of this enzyme than the general population.
This is amazing news. It’s just the first step on the long road to developing effective interventions, but it’s a major one, because up to this point, the condition was a complete mystery. Because SIDS usually strikes when babies are asleep, parents of newborns have been advised to take all measures to make breathing easier for infants by allowing them to sleep on their backs, preventing them from overheating while they sleep, and keeping toys and other potential hazards out of their cribs. These steps are as important as ever, and I hope every parent is well aware of them.
Grief often compounded by guilt
Tragically, though — as if the devastating grief of losing an infant to SIDS wasn’t enough — parents who lost a child would often be left feeling guilty for not “doing enough” to prevent their loss, as unfair as that sounds.
This new research is proof that they did nothing wrong and bear no responsibility for the tragedy their family suffered – their baby had a medical condition that was beyond their control. I hope this knowledge gives these moms and dads at least a small measure of comfort, because it’s heartbreaking to think of them actually feeling complicit in their babies’ loss.
One final note of interest is that the lead researcher for the study, Dr. Carmel Harrington, herself lost an infant son to SIDS 29 years ago — that’s what motivated her to devote her career to this research. It’s inspiring that she was able to take her personal tragedy and find in it a discovery that could have a profound impact on all new parents and infants from now on, and for that we thank her.
For further reading:
Researchers Pinpoint Important Biomarker for SIDS - Updated