The month of October hosts a very important cause, SIDS Awareness. To many, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is synonymous with recommendations such as placing a baby on his back to sleep. Last year, we shared a few tips for ensuring safe Z’s for your baby’s bedtime.

Despite the success of the “Back to Sleep” campaign launched in 1994 by the National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development and the “Back is Best” recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics in 1996, SIDS remains the number one cause of death in infants age 1 month to 1 year in the United States.

What makes one infant more susceptible than another to SIDS? As it turns out, a number of factors can increase a baby’s risk for SIDS, including:

  • Age, babies younger than six months are at the greatest risk
  • Sleeping environment such as the position of the baby and the presence of  soft bedding, which can lead to overheating and suffocation
  • Exposure to nicotine
  • Brain stem abnormalities, which can cause irregular breathing
  • Genetic susceptibilities (our specialty)

Researchers believe that genetic predispositions may be responsible for up to 20% of SIDS cases. Genetic changes which compromise the body’s ability to break down fats, such as mutations in the MCAD gene, have been well documented in cases of SIDS. In fact, one to five percent of SIDS cases investigated have been linked to mutations in the MCAD gene. Thankfully, newborn screening includes testing for MCAD, making undiagnosed and untreated cases of the condition less common.

Another genetic condition that can be related to SIDS is Long QT Syndrome (LQTS). LQTS affects the heart’s electrical activity and can cause sudden, uncontrollable, and dangerous heart beats. Mutations in LQTS genes account for up to 15% of SIDS cases. If an infant is thought to be at risk due to a strong family history, genetic testing can be performed to look for LQTS, and similar conditions such as Brugada syndrome and CPVT (Catecholaminergic Polymorphic Ventricular Tachycardia).

Unfortunately, many cases of SIDS remain unexplained. However, knowledge about family history and genetic factors that predispose an infant to SIDS can help families take necessary precautions for the health of their babies. Learn more about SIDS and the Safe to Sleep campaign from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.