Facts on baby sleep: new research into the cause of SIDS

* Please note, this article refers to babies lost to SIDS. If you have suffered a loss, you may not wish to read on. *

Sudden infant death syndrome (or SIDS) is the sudden death of a baby that is not predicted by medical reasons and remains unexplained after autopsy and death scene investigation. Babies are at the highest risk for SIDS during sleep.

New research from South Australia suggests that SIDS may be linked to specific organisms in babies’ guts.

For some time, research has supported the view that SIDS has some link to respiratory problems but no reliable causal link has been established despite a huge amount of research.

Now researchers are becoming increasingly interested in the micro-organisms in babies’ stomachs which could be important in protection against the bacteria potentially involved in SIDS.

The new research looked at the micoflora in the guts of 52 SIDS babies compared with 102 live babies.

It found that SIDS babies had two bacteria (Cl. perfringens and Cl. difficile) significantly more often than non-SIDS babies and were more often colonised by a third bacteria (S. aureus) than comparison babies.

Additionally, SIDS babies who slept on their stomachs were significantly more likely to be colonised by the S. aureus bacteria than for other positions.

Comparison of breast and formula feeding of SIDS babies with non-SIDS babies also revealed significant differences with regards to their gut bacteria

The researchers have put forward the view that the reason why sleeping on the tummy is dangerous is because it might increase the risk of inhaling bacteria on the surface of the bed which might be why it’s a factor in SIDS, even though we don’t know exactly why.

Ultimately, there is much more work to do.

But these differences could be important in identifying a baby’s susceptibility to infection and to SIDS.

Please take a moment to review the SIDS checklist. Ideally, you should be able to answer ‘yes’ to each question.

1. Has baby been placed on the back to sleep?
2. Is baby sleeping in a safe bassinette or cot, and away from hazards?
3. Does the cot meet Australian Standard for cots?
4. Is the mattress firm?
5. Does the mattress fit the cot /bassinette well?
6. Is the mattress clean and in good condition and flat (not titled or elevated)?
7. Is baby’s face and head uncovered?
8. Have any pillows, duvets, lambs wool, cot bumpers and soft toys been removed?
9. If using a baby sleeping bag, does it have a fitted neck, armholes or sleeves and no hood?
10. If using blankets rather than a sleeping bag, has baby been placed to sleep with feet touching the bottom of the cot/bassinette with blankets securely tucked in?
11. Is baby having tummy time to play when awake and supervised?
12. If you are a smoker have you stopped smoking or contacted your doctor or Quit line for help?
13. Remember never to sleep baby on a sofa, beanbag, waterbed or pillow?
14. Are other family members aware of how to sleep baby safely?

I’m passionate about getting the facts on baby sleep. When parents feel informed, they can make the right choices for their babies and gain confidence that you’re ok and your baby’s ok.

All the best,



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