Links Between Babies’ First Breaths and SIDS

For a mother, there is no better feeling on the planet than holding her newborn. It’s a sweet and precious time, but there’s new research that may show just how critical those first few moments are to babies’ long-term wellbeing. New data may actually reveal a medical link between first breaths and sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS. Data from this research might help detect SIDS before it happens. 

SIDS Study Revelations

SIDS is defined as the sudden, unexplained death of a child under one year of age. It often happens during periods of sleep. Children are seemingly otherwise healthy, and there is no apparent struggle — and yet they die. Long ago this was called "crib death" and now we call it Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. But no matter what you call it, the devastation wrought is unimaginable. Researchers have long worked on identifying the mechanism or cause of this tragic event.

Toward that end, the University of Virginia School of Medicine conducted a study examining the relationship between SIDS and the breathing patterns that occur immediately after birth. The results may offer some insight into SIDS and provide a new gateway for possible prevention.

Those First Post-Birth Moments Are Crucial

Before the baby is born, the mother supplies the right amount of oxygen via the umbilical cord. The moment a baby is born, it goes from a fragile, dependent respiratory state toward — ideally — a more robust, flawlessly performing one. But this can be a vulnerable time as the baby learns to breathe oxygenated air into its lungs.

As part of this delicate miracle, research points to a gene that switches on at birth. As a result, the brain produces specialized peptide neurotransmitters that relay information properly between the brain and lungs. In the brain, a signaling system activates immediately at birth to support breathing. That loud gasp of the first breath triggers it. For babies who start it right away, this signaling system offers extra safety against SIDS. If there are issues with the peptide production, it may result in apneas or breathing changes, leading to an increased risk of SIDS-related death in infants. 

Request Additional Testing

Any parent who worries their infant has struggled with their breath in timing or other ways should bring it up with the baby’s pediatrician immediately — before even leaving the hospital or immediately upon noticing the challenge. Doctors can run additional tests to determine if the breathing system was or is being interrupted. There may also be genetic and environmental factors, that contribute to an increased risk of SIDS, but knowing that this is a possible trigger gives us a place to begin. 

Put Preventative Measures in Place

Once testing has taken place, there are additional precautions parents can take to hopefully help prevent SIDS. Consider these steps:

  • Have the baby sleep on his or her back. 
  • Choose a firm mattress, and keep it free from toys and bulky linens.
  • Use sleep monitors to check on the baby frequently. 
  • Consider breastfeeding, which may lower the baby’s SIDS risk by 50%.
  • Avoid smoking around the baby. 
  • Avoid sleeping with the baby.
  • Never leave the baby unattended in a swing or car seat.

While a link between SIDS and a baby’s first breaths is important to consider, consult the child's pediatrician with any concerns as the first course of action. Infants with respiratory issues should always be monitored closely. The goal is for our babies to have healthy, thriving lives. 

Creating a safe and secure environment may help reduce the baby’s SIDS risk but to be clear, parents who have suffered this tragedy are not to blame. We hope to provide as much information as is currently available in the hope that it may prevent even one loss, but our hearts go out to every parent who has ever suffered this loss.

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6/4/2021 7:00:00 AM
Wellness Editor
Written by Wellness Editor
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