U.S. researchers say the greater risk of sudden infant death syndrome in babies of mothers who smoke may be linked to nicotine.

Hemant Sawnani and colleagues at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center reviewed human and animal studies concerning SIDS and concluded nicotine may negatively affect the development of the brain centers regulating breathing. The study, published in Pediatric Allergy, Immunology and Pulmonology, noted infants of mothers who smoked during pregnancy had more pauses in breathing (infant apnea) and were less able to wake up from sleep in response to low oxygen.

"These findings highlight the importance of public health policies to prevent the development of tobacco dependence in adolescent girls and the importance of treatment of maternal tobacco dependence prior to pregnancy," the journal's editor, Dr. Harold Farber of Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, says in a statement. "Perhaps when young women are freed from the chains of tobacco addiction we can then truly say that 'you have come a long way' for your baby." SIDS is also known as crib death. Farber says an infant's risk of SIDS, the leading cause of death during the first year of life, is increased two- to five-fold by smoke exposure in the womb.

One of the most heart-wrenching experiences a parent can have is when their baby dies from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). No one knows exactly what causes SIDS, and therefore it’s extremely difficult for parents to grasp. Oftentimes, they blame themselves or each other. The trauma of losing an infant can last a lifetime. Although there is no known cure, The American SIDS Institute offers these tips for reducing the risks of SIDS.

Parents-To-Be

1. Get medical care early in pregnancy, preferably within the first three months, followed by regular checkups at the doctor's office or health clinic. Make every effort to assure good nutrition. These measures can reduce the risk of premature birth, a major risk factor for SIDS.

2. Do not smoke, use cocaine, or use heroin. Tobacco, cocaine, or heroin use during pregnancy increases the infant's risk for SIDS.

3. Don’t get pregnant during the teenage years. If you are a teen and already have one infant, take extreme caution not to become pregnant again. The SIDS rate decreases for babies born to older mothers. It is highest for babies born to teenage mothers. The more babies a teen mother has, the greater at risk they are.

4. Wait at least one year between the birth of a child and the next pregnancy; the shorter the interval between pregnancies, the higher the SIDS rate.

Parents

1. Place infants to sleep on their backs, even though they may sleep more soundly on their stomachs. Infants who sleep on their stomachs and sides have a much higher rate of SIDS than infants who sleep on their backs.

2. Place infants to sleep in a baby bed with a firm mattress. There should be nothing in the bed but the baby - no covers, no pillows, no bumper pads, no positioning devices and no toys. Soft mattresses and heavy covering are associated with the risk for SIDS.

3. Keep your baby’s crib in the parents’ room until the infant is at least 6 months of age. Studies clearly show that infants are safest when their beds are close to their mothers.

4. Do not place your baby to sleep in an adult bed. Typical adult beds are not safe for babies. Do not fall asleep with your baby on a couch or in a chair.

5. Avoid exposing the infant to tobacco smoke. Don't have your infant in the same house or car with someone who is smoking. The greater the exposure to tobacco smoke, the greater the risk of SIDS.

6. Breast-feed babies whenever possible. Breast milk decreases the occurrence of respiratory and gastrointestinal infections. Studies show that breast-fed babies have a lower SIDS rate than formula-fed babies do.

7. Offer your baby a pacifier. Some studies have shown a lower rate of SIDS among babies who use pacifiers.

8. If your baby has periods of not breathing, going limp or turning blue, tell your pediatrician at once.

9. If your baby stops breathing or gags excessively after spitting up, discuss this with your pediatrician immediately.