The Short of It
It's a new parent's biggest fear. Many of us know someone who's been affected by the tragic, unexplained loss of a sleeping baby. And probably all of us have checked our babies' breathing in the night.
Now, Dr. Daniel Rubens of Seattle Children's Hospital believes he's close to proving the cause of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and developing ways to prevent it.
Dr. Rubens has been researching SIDS for the past 11 years. He has a theory that babies who die of SIDS have inner-ear dysfunction. As a result, they don't have a typical reflex when they have trouble breathing: they don't reposition themselves to get more air, and thus, stop breathing.
In a Rhode Island study, 31 babies who died of SIDS all scored poorly on a hearing test in their right ear. Babies whose hearing checked out survived. Rubens has been testing on mice and has found ear problems have led to higher risk for SIDS-like reactions in the mice, too.
"These babies have inner-ear damage, but they can't tell you," Rubens told The Seattle Times. "They are too young to sit up. The baby has got a problem getting air."
More research needs to be done, says Rubens, but if he's correct, he wants to develop a special hearing test that could diagnose hearing dysfunction within 48 hours of birth. Then those babies who appear to be at higher risk could receive more thorough exams and be more closely monitored.
If Rubens' theory proves to be correct, it would be absolutely huge. Fewer families would suffer devastating losses, and new parents would have one less thing to be frantically worried about. Here's hoping!
Until then, Rubens is raising money to do more research and more testing with his SIDS Research Guild organization.
"I am not going to give up. We will find a way," he said.
While parents can't prevent SIDS in all cases, you can do some things to reduce the risk. That means ridding baby's sleeping area of anything that could obstruct his breathing. Make sure you're creating the safest sleep environment for your baby with this checklist.
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