Living at high altitude is associated with increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome, a new report has found.
Researchers studied Colorado birth certificate and death registries from 2007 to 2012, and assessed the link to altitude using maternal residential addresses for nearly 395,000 infants. The findings were published in Pediatrics.
After controlling for maternal age and education, infant weight, cigarette smoking and other factors, and given the effect of the Back to Sleep campaign, which started in 1994 and encouraged parents to lay babies on their backs, the researchers found that infants who lived above 8,000 feet had twice the risk of SIDS compared with those who lived below 6,000 feet.
But “despite the doubling of risk,” said Dr. David F. Katz, a cardiologist at the University of Colorado and the study’s lead author, “the absolute risk remains very low.”
Expectant or new parents residing at high altitude should not move to sea level, the authors wrote. But “this is a call for people living in high altitudes to be very vigilant” about other factors that may lower SIDS risk, “like putting the baby on his back every time, no smoking, encourage breast-feeding,” said Dr. Amber Khanna, a cardiologist and pediatrician at the University of Colorado and the study’s senior author. The baby also should sleep in a crib without any bumpers or blankets, she said.
The authors suggested that it could be that more babies at high altitudes have abnormally low oxygen levels that may somehow contribute to SIDS.
“I’m afraid people will interpret this study as saying high altitudes are dangerous, but this association really begs for further research into why it exists,” Katz said.