Sudden Infant Death Syndrome: Mother and Infant Microbiomes

Women's Health, Infant and Children | May 18, 2017 | Author: Naturopath

women's health, infants

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome: Mother and Infant Microbiomes

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is name given for the sudden death of a seemingly healthy baby that is younger than a year of age. This phenomenon is also known as cot death has been dubbed a “silent thief” because it usually occurs without any warning signs and very suddenly.

Although the exact cause for SIDS is currently scientifically unknown, there have been several new researches conducted on the role of gut bacteria in SIDS that have found evidence that the microbiome in the gut of SIDS infants is different to those found in healthy age-matched live infants.

Human microbiome

The human microbiome is the group of genes provided by microorganisms, or the microbiota, living in and on the human body. These good bacteria inhabit the gut, skin and the birth canal (vagina) and are vital to human health. Esssential physiological functions such as digestion, production of certain vitamins, regulation of the immune system and protection are all supported by healthy body flora.

sudden infant death bacteriaBaby's microbione

When an infant is born through a vaginal birth the baby is colonized by bacteria from mother's birth canal while during a caesarean birth, the baby is colonized by the mother’s skin.

It was previously thought that amniotic fluid, the fluid where baby resides for 9 months before birth,  was completely sterile but new scientific evidence suggest that the amniotic fluid as well as the placenta host bacteria and is the first source of a baby’s microbiome.The connection between mother and baby is continued after birth by microbes present in breast milk.


When bacteria are introduced to an infant’s body through maternal colonization, diet and the environment, this may cause significant inflammatory responses.

Inflammation is the body's natural attempt at self-protection, with a purpose of removing harmful stimuli, including damaged cells, irritants, or pathogens so as to begin the healing process.

It is a part of the body’s innate immunity. This will result in the body releasing inflammatory chemicals known as cytokines, which are harmful and can cause illness and disequilibrium in the body. This may be the reason that symptoms of illness in the days leading up to a case of sudden death are often reported.  In most cases, these episodes of bacterial infections are usually harmless and the infant is able to cope with the infection. In SIDS, however, the infant seems to have deregulated responses to bacterial infection and does not recover, sadly, ending in death.

Evidence of Infection in SIDS

sudden infant death feverThe hypothesis for a presence of infection is supported further by reports of sweat-soaked clothing and bedding indicating a febrile episode in the last sleep as well as rectal temperatures at autopsy of SIDS babies that are higher than normal ranges; providing further evidence of fever during the last sleep.

Due to this evidence, it is suggested that supporting both the immunity of the infant and the potential bacterial pathogens that colonize is the key.

To achieve this it is important to ensure that the mother is healthy. happy, stress free and has a balance of healthy flora before and during pregnancy and whilst breastfeeding.


Gut Microbiomes are an essential part of your immune system. They have important physiological significance; they counteract inflammation and suppress the overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria in the gut, they produce vitamins and amino acids and help to absorb minerals that are consumed through diet.

sudden infant death probioticsThey also eliminate toxins, regulate mood and mental health, as well as help to regulate body weight.

Besides helping to colonize the gut with good bacteria that may help to relieve symptoms of gastrointestinal diseases such as Crohn’s disease, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), probiotics are also good for restoring and maintaining urogenital health.

Even before pregnancy, women should increase their intake of probiotics. This can be done by eating foods rich in probiotics such as healthy dairy products and fermented foods or supplementing with specific probiotics. Probiotics supplements have been formulated specifically for pregnancy, breast feeding and newborns.
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Your diet can either make or break your gut flora balance. Consuming foods high in refined sugars and salts will allow pathogenic flora to flourish reducing your healthy gut flora. A healthy diet low in saturated fat and simple sugars and high in wholesome 'close to nature' food is always the key to good health.

Additionally, in you are suffering from morning sickness and/or nausea or vomiting associated with pregnancy you may benefit from taking multivitamins. Ginger root can help with nausea. Drink ginger tea or supplement with ginger.
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Manage Stress

Research has shown that stress has a negative impact on the gut flora of mice in. This may translate into the same for humans. In fact, stress has been linked to 'preeclampsia', a complication of  high blood pressure in pregnancy, which is life threatening.

Managing stress levels can start with getting plenty of relaxation and a good night sleep. Practicing good sleep hygiene methods to ensure that you are well rested. 

The term sleep hygiene is used to describe good sleep habits and tips that may improve your sleep. Here are  tips from the American Sleep Association:

  • Have a comfortable pre-bedtime routine (such as warm bath, meditation etc.)
  • Maintain a regular sleep routine
  • Avoid naps if possible
  • Don’t stay in bed awake for more than 5-10 minutes.
  • Don’t watch TV or read in bed.
  • Exercise regularly (Exercise before 2 pm every day, but avoid rigorous exercise before bedtime)
  • Have a quiet, comfortable bedroom (in terms of light, noise, temperature, bedding and pillow)
  • If you are a ‘clock watcher’ at night, hide the clock.​

Sleep can be quite daunting between finding the perfect position for your baby-bump and having to get up to go the bathroom around the clock. 

Getting a good night sleep, eating well, increasing your intake of probiotic foods, ensuring adequate relaxation and exercise are some of the ways that you can promote good gut flora and overall good health. 


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