Even after nearly two decades of public health campaigns promoting sleep safety for babies, many parents and caretakers are still unaware of the habits that can lead to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Deaths resulting from SIDS have dropped sharply since the 1990s, when awareness campaigns began urging parents to put their babies on their backs for sleeping. In the United States, 10 years after the campaign began, the rate of SIDS deaths in the United States had fallen by 50 percent. In Canada, studies suggest SIDS causes nearly 1 in 1,000 infant deaths each year.
To better understand the phenomenon, researchers looked at the medical files of babies having died from SIDS in one U.S. state between 1991 and 2008. In 1991, the rate of SIDS deaths was about 1.34 deaths for every 1,000 births, and by 2008, the rate had fallen to 0.64 for every 1,000 births.
Notably, one in three babies who died from SIDS had been placed on his or her stomach to sleep, even though the guidelines clearly state that babies must be put to sleep on their backs. The findings found that 38 percent of the infants were sharing a bed at the time of death and 45 percent had been placed in an adult bed to sleep. Adult mattresses are often softer than a crib surface, and adult bedding is often bulkier, which increases the risk of babies suffocating.
In addition to placing infants on their back, recommendations include sharing a room – but not a bed – with the baby, staying up-to-date on routine immunizations, and breast-feeding for as long as possible. Parents should keep bedding to a minimum and avoid overheating and exposure to toxic substances like tobacco smoke. It’s important to keep in mind that the risk of SIDS increases along with the number of bad habits: 66 percent of the SIDS deaths in this study involved at least three bad habits that contributed to the child’s death.
For more information on good sleep habits, consult the Canadian Pediatric Society’s website.