A new study has found that rare genetic mutations associated with difficulty breathing may be linked to cot death.
The study's researchers stressed that these harmful gene variants are not the sole cause of cot death, also known as sudden infant deaths syndrome (SIDS). They said that safe sleeping measures are also important to keep in mind.
Their findings are groundbreaking, though, with Professor Michael Hanna from the Medical Research Council Centre for Neuromuscular Diseases at University College London telling the Irish Independent:
"Our study is the first to link a genetic cause of weaker breathing muscles with sudden infant death syndrome.
"It suggests that genes controlling breathing muscle function could be important in this condition. However, more research will be needed to fully understand this link."
The gene in question is the SCN4A gene, which regulates the muscular control of breathing.
Mutations of the SCN4A gene occurs in fewer than five people in 100,000, but the harmful mutated versions of the gene were found in four out of every 278 babies that passed away due to cot death.
Children born with one of the variations of the gene may have weaker breathing muscles.
When an external factor such as tangled bedding or tobacco smoke interferes with their respiration, these infants may have a more difficult time being able to catch their breath.
And while the cause of SIDS remains a mystery, many believe it is linked to breathing issues.
Cot deaths usually occur in babies aged two to four months. About 300 infants lose their lives to SIDS in the UK each year. In the noughties, there were an estimated 34 victims of cot death each year in Ireland.
This latest research pertaining to the role of genetics in cot death was published in The Lancet and conducted by scientists from the UK and US.