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20th Apr 2015

Will we ever shed some light on SIDS? Our Sleep Guru has the lowdown

"We don’t like to talk about tragedies when it comes to our infants, but we should"

Niamh O'Reilly

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is the unexplained death, usually during sleep, of a seemingly healthy baby under a year old.

We don’t like to talk about tragedies when it comes to our infants, but we should. Many of us will know at least one person who has been affected by this traumatic event. We need to talk about it, talking and communication will help us find answers as to how this can happen.

Dr Daniel Rubens of Seattle Children’s Hospital has been researching SIDS for many years. He now believes he is close to finding at least one of the reasons SIDS occurs, through his testing process using mice.

His belief is that many infants may have had an underlying inner ear ‘dysfunction’ that prevents them from being able to move at night when their breathing gets into difficulty. The reflex to reposition themselves is not present, and they may stop breathing. The babies are perhaps too young to sit up or move and, therefore, experience problems getting air.

While these tests are not conclusive, Dr Rubens believes that he can help to develop a test for this type of ear problem within the first 48 hours of birth. Those presenting with the issue would be closely monitored.

Who knows, if this proves to be true, this could be a massive step in protecting our babies and preventing any more of these heart-breaking tragedies from occurring.

And while there is every chance we have no control over these events, providing a safe sleep environment for our babies would be a good place to start in reducing the risks.

  • Place your baby on their back to sleep.
  • Place them into their cot with their feet at the foot of the cot.
  • Remove toys from the cot/basket to help air flow freely around them.
  • Ideally, the safest place for baby to sleep is in a cot in your room until they are at least 6 months.

But, if you make the decision to share a bed with your infant

  • Make sure that you or your partner are not overtired and you haven’t been drinking or taking drugs or medication.
  • Ensure your bed is absolutely safe for your baby, with a flat, firm mattress and no gaps between the mattress and headboard.
  • Remove all pillows and bedding (duvets and blankets) in the early months, and dress both baby and yourselves warmly to compensate.
  • Overnight, bed is the safest place to feed your little one (particularly if you are breastfeeding and are concerned about ‘falling asleep on the job’). Feed wherever is most comfortable for you. (Many mums start off determined not to bring the baby into their bed and can find themselves unintentionally bed-sharing if they fall asleep while feeding).

Either way, as of right now, many infant deaths remain unexplained and just can’t be attributed to any particular factor. We can do all in our power to reduce the risks and yet still many are faced with the absolute possibility that there is just no reason. These beautiful babies seem to simply ‘switch off’.

Following the sudden and tragic death of her baby boy, Flynn last year, Leigh Arnold has become the patron of a new Irish charity called First Light, a part of the Irish Sudden Infant Death Association. Their aim is to provide support for suddenly bereaved parents and families and promoting research into “the sudden, unexpected or unexplained deaths of infants and young children”.

If you or anyone you know has experienced this devastating trauma, please visit or to donate, text FIRST to 50300. And keep talking. 

Niamh O’Reilly is a sleep coach. She’s also a baby and childcare guru, a ‘parent nanny’ and the answer to many a weary parent’s woes. When it comes to baby and child issues, Niamh is your woman. Always on hand to offer a no-nonsense solution, in an approachable way. A regular in the Irish media, (most recently as TV3’s Late Lunch Show’s ‘parent nanny’) over the next while at, Niamh will share some of her experiences, helping you attain that ‘holy grail’ – nights of uninterrupted sleep for all of the family.