by Cynthia Billiar BSN, RN, IBCLC, ANLC, ICD, ICCE
If the CDC came out today and reported they had found a medication that would decrease sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) by 73%, people would be flocking to the pharmacy in droves, demanding they receive this life saving drug, yet we have known for years that breastfeeding decreases SIDS. According to the research article, Breastfeeding and the Reduced Risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome: A Meta-analysis, exclusively breastfed infants have a reduced likelihood of SIDS by 73%. There is new research that suggest that at least 2 months of breastfeeding cuts the risk of SIDS in half, and to receive this protection breastfeeding does not have to be exclusive, (Thompson et al., 2017). With this new finding, I wonder, will we see an increase in breastfeeding initiation? It is still recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics to breastfeed exclusively for the first 6 months and then begin adding solid foods and continue breastfeeding for a year and beyond; this increases the protection against SIDS along with all the other benefits of breastfeeding. Some moms may feel overwhelmed by the recommendation of exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months and might decide breastfeeding is not something they can do. Nonexclusive breastfeeding for 2 months could be a more realistic goal for these mothers.
What causes SIDS is still unknown but with each new clue that is found in research we gain another piece of this complex puzzle. A recent study suggests that genetics could play a role in the risk of SIDS. This study identified a rare genetic variant in some of the infants who died from SIDS that directly alters the respiratory and laryngeal function. This study is the first to link a genetic cause of weakened muscles for breathing with SIDS, (Mannikko R, 2018). In the March ICEA blog, I wrote about epigenetics and breastfeeding. The more we study epigenetics, the more we understand why so many things happen. What if we find with more research there is definitely a genetic factor related to SIDS? Is it possible that even nonexclusive breastfeeding in the first 2 months of life could be the epigenetic key that turns those genetic tags off for the risk of SIDS?
There is still lots of research that needs to be done before we know for sure what causes SIDS. But what we know so far is that just some breastfeeding can decrease the risk of SIDS along with the other preventions, such as back to sleep, no fluff in baby’s bed, and not over heating the baby. We can help save lives by teaching mothers about the importance of breastfeeding in the first hour of life and the need to do at least some breastfeeding for the first 2 months of life.