Here is a fact to burn into your brain. Babies are born with only 25% of their brains developed. The rest is co-constructed by caregivers in early life. So the quality of early care is vitally important. I've been writing about the importance of ancient parenting practices that build a quality brain, practices the modern world has all but dismissed. As a result we have many babies, children and adults with deficient brain systems. And those deficiencies kill.
Recently, researchers have found that babies who die of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome have fewer serotonin receptors in the brain stem, the part of the brain that helps regulate breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, and arousal. This is what the report says: "The finding is the strongest evidence to date suggesting that innate differences in a specific part of the brain may place some infants at increased risk for SIDS."
Innate?! Woops, these people don't know their developmental biology. They are blaming babies for their underdeveloped brains!
Early life care builds (or not) serotonin receptors. If you don't have the caregiving evolved over 30 millions of years, you are likely going to be deficient (hence the epidemic of depression among all age groups in the USA and increasing around the world).
What are the key early experiences that build serotonin receptors? If you have been reading this blog you won't be surprised.
Breastmilk has tryptophan, the amino acid that builds serotonin receptors (and helps regulate sleep). Children who are fed infant formula have lower levels of tryptophan in their blood (and many other necessary things). Lower levels are linked to depression in adults. Bingo: were the SIDS babies breastfed babies?
Touch builds serotonin receptors. A baby expects to be held virtually all the time. When it doesn't happen, the baby stops growing. The biology of development means that things are on a sequential course and there are sensitive or critical periods for certain systems to finish their development. If the proper environment isn't available, then the system will be defective. We know this best about vision (so you want to fix a "lazy" eye right away before it ‘locks in'). Were the SIDS babies in high-touch environments?
Co-sleeping is vital to ‘train' the baby's breathing and heart rate and temperature. Babies can't do these things well by themselves. My husband was an incubator baby who never learned how to breathe deeply. Were the SIDS babies (safe) co-sleeping babies?
Breastfeeding and safe co-sleeping are preventive measures for SIDS. See McKenna's work.
So should we blame the babies in the USA for their lack of serotonin receptors? No, we should first look at the parenting practices encouraged by the experts. Do they encourage safe co-sleeping? Do they insist on breasfeeding and support mom and child in getting it established (it takes practice) and keeping it going for all of the the first year (at least)? Do they encourage ‘baby-wearing' and frequent holding of the child?
If the answer is "no" to any of these, then we might think about blaming the "experts" for SIDS deaths, not the babies.