How sudden infant death syndrome claimed her four-month-old daughter remains a mystery to Airdrie mom Sarah Cormier.
But she’s hoping studies conducted by University of Calgary researchers that zeroes in on how simple factors such as too much swaddling, cuddly toys in cribs, bed-sharing and pre-natal smoking can take the lives of babies will spare other parents her agony.
“It’s every parent’s worst nightmare and we’re living through it,” said Cormier, whose daughter Quinn died in 2014. “It’s an ongoing journey that never goes away.
“You’re grateful for that research … we just need to bring awareness and find out the causes.”
Two years of research, using mostly rats as subjects, suggests how everyday practices, like heavily blanketing babies or parents bedding down with their infants can increase the likelihood of sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS, said Dr. Shabih Hasan of the U of C’s Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute.
Another is tobacco use that undermines the baby’s immune system after birth, particularly when combined with infection, said Hasan.
“The first thing is to avoid smoking during pregnancy by both parents and the second key message is not to make babies too warm, say, by heating the room too much then putting clothes on them,” said Hasan.
Second-hand smoke — also widely believed to be a source of SIDS after birth — interrupts breathing while higher environmental temperatures lead to an increased heart rate, according to Hasan’s research.
What sets the latest U of C research apart is unlocking how bacterial infections can interact with other factors to make SIDS more likely, said Hasan.
“That has never been done before,” he said, adding research has been ongoing for 25 years.
“We’ve slowly built on previous findings, adding them to the factors we know.”
Cormier, who has a five-year-old daughter, said that “nothing surprises me anymore” when learning of the seemingly innocent factors that contribute to SIDS.
“Quinn was absolutely perfect right way, was a great sleeper, rarely cried,” she said.
“It’s hard to believe it still happens and happened to us.”
Hasan said his work has no role in blaming parents.
“We shouldn’t make people feel guilty, we should offer them help,” he said.
One heartening fact surrounding SIDS is that its frequency has decreased substantially, dropping from 1.2 babies per 1,000 in the 1980s to 0.5 today, said Hasan.
Other important advice for parents in reducing the chance of SIDS is ensuring babies sleep on their back, are immunized and breastfed.