On Thursday morning, I woke up to a very large number of emails and Instagram messages asking me to please, please talk about this new study on the role of a particular enzyme in driving SIDS deaths. Nearly everyone who wrote to me linked not to the academic journal article but to this news coverage from the website BioSpace. The title—of the article, not the journal study—is “Researchers Pinpoint Reason Infants Die From SIDS.”
I can see why this caught people’s attention, and I can see why the emails I got asked things like “Does this new finding mean we can ignore the other advice about back sleeping and pillows in the crib?” It is also, unfortunately, an example of media coverage that is wildly misleading. In case you do not get to the end of this article, the key takeaway is that all of the safe-sleep guidelines—and especially the guideline about putting your child to sleep on their back—are completely unchanged and extremely important.
In general, SIDS deaths are extremely difficult to predict beyond basic correlates like prematurity. There are interventions—behaviors—that we know lower the risks, but even with perfect adherence, SIDS remains a significant cause of death. There is a sense that if we had better predictors of what makes an infant vulnerable, we could better monitor and prevent deaths.