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Recent advances in medical research shows us that babies that die of SIDS may not be as healthy as we once thought. Scientists have uncovered an abnormality in the brainstem of SIDS victims that make them vulnerable to sudden, unexpected death.
While there is still much we do not know about SIDS, a triple-risk model is often used to describe the series of events that takes place when a baby dies of SIDS:
The first element of the model is the critical development period, which is the first six months of life where the baby is growing and developing very rapidly. This rapid growth can make a baby’s system become unstable.
The second element, the vulnerable infant, represents an infant with this underlying abnormality in an area of their brain stem that controls respiration, heart rate, temperature, arousal from sleep and other major bodily functions during early life.
The third element involves outside or environmental challenges which a normal baby can easily overcome and survive, but that an already vulnerable baby night not. Challenges such as tobacco exposure, tummy sleeping, soft bedding, bed sharing or an upper respiratory infection alone do not cause death for healthy infants, but could trigger a sudden, unexpected death in a vulnerable infant.
According to this model, at least two of theses elements must come together for SIDS to result. Unfortunately, at this time, there is no way to identify which babies are at increased risk as a result of this brain stem abnormality.
Last revised: October 2009
Last Updated: Jan 6, 2010