Many Parents Not Following Safe Sleep Practices for Babies

Infants sleep safest on their back yet many parents not following this guidance

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) One of the most frightening concerns of parents with new babies is sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS. But safe sleeping practices can reduce the risk of SIDS.

Two recent studies, however, revealed that significant numbers of parents may not be following these safe sleep guidelines for their children.

One of the most important guidelines, recommended since 1994, is that parents place their babies on their backs to go to sleep, which reduces the risk of SIDS by 50 percent.

Another practice recommended to reduce SIDS is to ensure babies do not share beds with their parents.

"Place babies to sleep on their backs."

In one study, led by Eve Colson, MD, a professor of pediatrics at Yale University School of Medicine, the researchers interviewed 1,030 mothers from 32 hospitals across the country when the mothers' babies were 2 to 6 months old.

The mothers varied in terms of age and race, with 13 percent being black and 25 percent being Hispanic.

In an online or telephone survey, the mothers answered questions about bed sharing, their babies' sleeping position and other infant care practices.

The results revealed that 18.5 percent of mothers shared a bed with their babies, including 28 percent of Hispanics, 18 percent of blacks and 14 percent of whites.

Further, about 10 percent of mothers put their babies to sleep on the baby's stomach, including 22 percent of blacks, 10 percent of whites and 7 percent of Hispanics.

The other study, led by Sunah Hwang, MD, a neonatologist at Boston Children's Hospital, looked even more closely at tummy-sleeping versus back-sleeping among infants, especially those born premature.

These researchers used a national database of information, involving 374,461 babies from across 36 states, from the Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The good news is that the number of babies being placed to sleep on their backs increased significantly between 2000 and 2010, the researchers found.

Particularly among babies born premature before the 28th week of pregnancy, 68 percent were placed on their backs to sleep in 2010, compared with only 40 percent in 2000.

The researchers also found large differences in the rates of parents' putting their children to sleep on their backs according to what state the parents lived in.

For example, the state with the highest rate was Wisconsin, where 81 percent of babies were reportedly placed on their backs to sleep. Yet in Alabama, only half of babies were placed to sleep on their backs

In calculating their comparisons among babies born at different weeks in the pregnancy, the researchers took into account the mothers' age, race/ethnicity, level of education, past births, method of delivery (vaginal or cesarean section), length of stay in the hospital and insurance status (public, private, none).

The researchers found that very preterm babies (before 28 weeks) were no more or less likely to be placed to sleep on their backs than babies born later but still preterm (up to 34 weeks).

However, babies born late preterm (34-37 weeks) were very slightly less likely to be placed on their backs to sleep than babies born at full term (38 weeks or later).

"Although the prevalence of safe sleep practices is improving for all gestational age groups, it is still far from optimal and thus continued efforts need to be directed toward all infants," the researchers wrote.

The differences in the findings between the two studies is likely related to different methods of collecting the data and different demographics of parents.

These studies have not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, and their findings should be interpreted with caution.

The research was presented May 3 at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting in Vancouver, Canada.

No outside funding was used for the second study, and the first study was funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

No information regarding disclosures or possible conflicts of interest was available.

Review Date: 
May 2, 2014
Last Updated:
May 3, 2014