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The Wire: New study could help detect babies at higher risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)

4:00pm on 11 May 2022

Interview by Stella Huggins on The Wire 

Listen to the full interview

Warning: this story discusses sudden infant death. 

A new study from the Children's Hospital Westmead in Sydney has identified that babies who pass away from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) have a significantly lower level of a specific enzyme, butyrylcholinesterase (BChE), that is imperative in the brain's arousal pathways.

SIDS is the unexplained death of an apparently healthy infant less than one year of age, during a period of sleep.

According to lead researcher Dr Carmel Harrington, usually, if a baby is confronted with a life-threatening situation, such as difficulty breathing during sleep because they are on their stomach, they will arouse and cry out.

"What this research shows is that some babies don't have this same robust arousal response," says Dr Harrington. 

Fay Selby-Law, general manager of the National Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy (SUDI) Prevention Coordination Service, told Stella on The Wire that public health campaigns focused on safe sleeping, overheating, and maternal smoking during a baby's first three months have drastically reduced SIDS in Aotearoa.

Selby-Law says whānau Māori are disproportionately affected by SUDI but that many parents have questions about the safety of sleeping with their baby.  

"We know that when mama smokes or co-sleeps with baby, it affects the arousal pathway. The more information we have, the better informed we can make whānau about the risks involved."

​Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air.