Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Sleep Training: Higher Stress, Lower Serotonin May Increase SIDS

By Liz DeMar author of the Hybrid Life

I happened to catch the NBC Nightly News this evening where I heard about the latest development in SIDS research. (1, 2) My interest was piqued even before I heard the full story: How would this compare to research done by Dr. James McKenna? What does it mean for those who share sleep (co-sleepers)? What would be the mainstream media response? According to the study:
“Lower levels of the hormone serotonin may help explain why some infants succumb to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).”
I have a bit of experience with wonky levels of serotonin. In my experience with generalized anxiety disorder, my serotonin levels were negatively impacted following a period of extreme stress. Extreme stress. You know -- like the stress that a baby would feel if his parents laid him in the crib and walked out the door. Like the anxiety that would flood his little body as he wailed and waited for them to come back to him. Like the despair he would feel when they did not.

Could this new research possibly support the theory of a link between "sleep training" and SIDS?

This latest study could be an affirmation of McKenna’s position that babies are safest when they sleep within an arm's reach of their mothers, and breastfeed on cue. Serotonin is a hormone that exists primarily in the gut of a human being. It regulates intestinal movement and operates optimally when 'fed' and cared for. (A hungry baby, for example, will have serotonin levels that are off kilter). Serotonin is also highly responsible for other central nervous system functions - the regulation of mood, sleep, muscle movement, appetite, learning and memory. Serotonin works as a calming hormone in the body, while cortisol (a stress hormone) spikes when distressed.

A co-sleeping baby never experiences this rise of stress hormones (such as cortisol) from being left alone to cry-it-out. Rather, a baby sleeping near his mother feels the security of her body, her warmth, her regulatory breath, right beside him. A co-sleeping baby is happy. Research demonstrates that a co-sleeping baby has natural, normal, regulated levels of serotonin. (3, 4)

Unfortunately, that’s not the way that the mainstream media may present the results. Already we see reactions like this from the medical community:
“I think the message is there is something inherently wrong in some of these babies.”
Really? Is there “something inherently wrong” with these babies? Or perhaps something inherently wrong with the way we are being taught to parent...


Turn your crib into a co-sleeper and benefit from sharing sleep!


1) Hannah C. Kinney, MD, professor of pathology, Harvard Medical School; neuropathologist, Children's Hospital Boston.

2) J. Duncan, et. al. "Brainstem Serotonergic Deficiency in Sudden Infant Death Syndrome."
JAMA. 2010;303(5):430-437.

3) Gerhardt, S. (2004).
Why Love Matters: How Affection Shapes a Baby's Brain. Brunner-Routledge: New York.

4) Sunderland, M. (2006).
The Science of Parenting: How today's brain research can help you raise healthy, happy, emotionally balanced children. DK Publishing: New York.


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