Sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS, is a devastating condition that’s still very poorly understood, so when new research comes out, it can feel like a very big deal — especially if that research seems to offer a way to save children’s lives. Posts on social media cheered one such new study this week, heralding the research as identifying the reason hundreds of babies die unexpectedly each year.
But even though the study points in a promising direction for future research, it isn’t a panacea, experts say. “There is nothing definitive about this at all,” said Rachel Moon, a researcher studying sudden infant death syndrome at the University of Virginia, in an email to The Verge. The surge in interest around the study is understandable, she said, but isn’t warranted.
SIDS refers to the sudden and often unexplained death of an infant one years old or younger. It is largely a mystery, and doctors don’t have good answers as to why it happens. Parents of infants who die from unexplained causes are often the focus of suspicion, which can make the parents feel even more guilty and bereaved than they already do. Medical research into SIDS has, for the past few decades, focused on prevention: there’s an association between how infants are placed down to sleep and SIDS, so parents are encouraged to place babies on their backs and on firm surfaces.
But even with safe sleeping campaigns, which have been effective at reducing infant deaths since the late 1980s,…