A new study conducted in Australia may have identified why babies die from the heartbreaking and mysterious condition of sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS.

Researchers are calling the small peer-reviewed study, published in The Lancet medical journal on May 6, a potential breakthrough in understanding SIDS and developing preventative measures to reduce the risk of disease.

According to the study, babies who died from SIDS had lower levels of the enzyme butyrylcholinesterase than living babies or those who died from other causes, ABC Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Jen Ashton said on “Good Morning America” Friday.

Butyrylcholinesterase, or BChE, is thought to be involved in brain arousal pathways, which control critical bodily functions like the drive to take a breath, Ashton said.

“Potentially, this would represent a target for intervention if you could screen babies, find that they have a low enzyme level and improve that. But again, this is preliminary research at this point,” she said.

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Pediatricians advise parents to reduce the risk of SIDS by:

  • Placing babies on their backs for all sleep times — naps and at night
  • Avoiding blankets in cribs
  • Breastfeeding if possible
  • Keeping babies in the parents’ or guardians’ sleeping area for at least six months, but not in the adults’ beds

In 2019, about 1,250 babies in the United States died due to sudden infant death syndrome, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The deaths often occur during sleep and in the baby’s sleeping area.

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