Apparently pediatricians and other providers of obstetric and neonatal care need to be clearer in our advice about safe infant sleep environments. Karina Shedrofsky looks at a new study from Penn State, published this month in Pediatrics, and says our words aren’t sticking with young parents:
A study involving videos of slumbering infants found the vast majority of parents placed babies in unsafe sleep environments associated with an increased risk of death despite guidance from health care providers and public education campaigns.
Most of the study’s enrollees were highly educated, predominantly white parents who one might think of as being low risk for putting their babies in unsafe sleep situations. Evidently, we need to think again:
Researchers recorded infants for one night at ages 1, 3 and 6 months in family homes. The videos revealed most parents placed children at risk by positioning infants on their sides or stomachs, using soft sleep surfaces or loose bedding or sharing a bed with a parent…
More than 160 infants were enrolled in the study, though some dropped out before the six month mark. Across the three time periods, 10-21% of babies were placed on a non-recommended sleep surface, 14-33% were placed in non-recommended positions and 87-93% had potentially hazardous items on their sleep surface.
Risky items include loose blankets, stuffed animals, pillows, bumper pads and sleep positioners. Unsurprisingly, some of these items were found on the sleep surfaces the infants shared with a parent, but the majority of cribs also contained soft or loose bedding.
About 12-28% of the infants changed sleep locations overnight, with the higher percentage occuring among younger babies. When moved in the middle of the night, the babies were often placed in an even riskier environment, such as sharing a bed with an adult.
Back in December, we looked at 10 steps parents can take to make a very rare event — sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) — even more rare. Here are the first six steps, all related to a safe sleep environment:
- Place a baby to sleep on his/her back.
- Babies should sleep on a firm surface, such as a crib, and NEVER on a soft surface, like a sofa.
- Babies should not sleep in the same bed as their parents or other children. (Babies may sleep in a crib in the same room as their parents.)
- Soft bedding materials — pillows, comforters or quilts — don’t belong in a baby’s crib. Soft toys should also be kept out of the baby’s sleeping area. The safest sleep environment consists solely of a firm crib mattress covered by a fitted sheet, with no bumper pads on the crib.
- Avoid products marketed as a way to reduce SIDS risk, such as wedges and positioners. These are marketing gimmicks that have never been tested or proven to be safe or effective.
- Allow babies to sleep with a pacifier (unattached to clothing with a clip and string or ribbon).
One final rule-of-thumb: Don’t hold a sleeping baby. I know she (or he) might be really warm and soft and cuddly and cute, but do her a favor and put her down on her back and in her crib to sleep. (Of course, grandparents are exempted from this rule!)