Avoiding cot death

October 15, 2008

The tragedy of cot death (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) is horrendous for any family, and anything that might help avert this tragedy is worth passing on. The best-accepted advice, and most effective, is that of always placing infants to sleep on their backs, but now new research offers another method to back that up.

There is a new study by researchers in Northern California, based on data collected from nearly 500 mothers that seems to indicate that the use of a fan in a baby’s room may reduce the likelihood of sudden death by 72%. HOWEVER, this data suggests that the protective effect applies mostly to babies in poor sleeping environments, that is those who sleep on their stomachs or in overheated rooms.

The benefit of using a fan at night became apparent when the researchers tracked those families where there seemed to be a higher risk of cot death. The figures are certainly impressive:

** 94% reduction in risk for babies who slept in rooms that exceeded 70 degrees F (21 degrees C)

** 85% reduction in risk for babies in rooms with closed windows

** 86% reduction among babies placed on their sides or stomach to sleep

** 78% reduction among those who did not use a pacifier or dummy (the handle is believed to help maintain babies’ breathing space under a blanket or in soft bedding).

It is already known that there is a link between cot death and rebreathing exhaled air, as can happen if the baby’s nose is under the covers or restricted by sleeping on their stomach. This means they are taking in an increased amount of carbon dioxide and that is dangerous because it can hurt the baby’s ability to arouse during sleep. If you decrease the chance of rebreathing air, then the cot death risk reduced, and using a fan is one way to help that. Sadly, the definitive cause of cot death is still largely a mystery. To date, perhaps the best evidence of its cause comes from a 2006 study led by researchers at the Children’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts who examined the brain tissue of babies who died from cot death and those who died from other causes. Researchers found that the cot death babies often have a brain weakness in a region of the brain that controls breathing, heart rate and blood pressure. The abnormality appears to weaken the responsiveness of certain functions, including arousal from sleep when the body fails to get enough oxygen. Researchers think the defect may be genetic in origin, although there are no biological tests yet to determine risk.


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