I don't know if I can think of a worse nightmare for parents than walking into their newborn baby's room and finding their infant dead. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is a horror that first started rearing its ugly head about twenty years ago. At least that's when the medical profession started to categorize the mysterious unexplained deaths of infants under the age of a year; who knows how long it had been occurring in the years prior to that.
Crib deaths, as they are also called, are characterized by the unexplained death while sleeping of an infant under the age of one year. A perfectly healthy child was put to bed by his or her parents and would simply stop breathing for no apparent reason. Parents, of course, would be guilt-ridden as well as grief-stricken, blaming themselves for what they saw as a seemingly preventable death.
Finally, there might be at least a partial explanation for this mysterious horror. Researchers in the United States have compared the brain autopsies of 31 SIDS victims over the past ten years with those of ten infants who have died of other causes and noticed an abnormality in the brain stems of the SIDS babies that might affect breathing. The defect seemed to affect the brain stem's ability to regulate serotonin, the chemical that helps to control vital bodily functions.
While this in no way can be seen as conclusive evidence due to the small numbers in the study, it does go a long way toward supporting what doctors at Sick Children's Hospital in Toronto, Canada, have long suspected: that some brain function in these children has been inhibited in order for the deaths to occur.
Dr. Ernest Cutz, who has studied the disease, believes the discovery is one step toward removing the mystery surrounding SIDS, and hopes it will help improve prevention and perhaps even lead to its eradication.
Aurore Côté of Montreal's Children's Hospital and a specialist in SIDS is the one who cautioned the sampling in these test results is too small to be conclusive in any way. She says the two major risk factors involving the syndrome are already established: putting babies to sleep face down and tobacco smoke during pregnancy.