Just the thought of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) strikes fear into the hearts of parents—and we’re all willing to do what it takes to lower the risks in our own homes. But officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now say mixed messages about the safest ways for babies to sleep have caused progress against SIDS to stall.
“Unfortunately, too many babies in this country are lost to sleep-related deaths that might be prevented,” says CDC Director Brenda Fitzgerald, M.D. “We must do more to ensure every family knows the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommendations: babies should sleep on their backs, without any toys or soft bedding and in their own crib. Parents are encouraged to share a room with the baby, but not the same bed. These strategies will help reduce the risk and protect our babies from harm.”
According to the CDC, approximately 3,500 American babies dies from SIDS, accidental suffocation or another unknown cause during sleep. These numbers are down the from 1990s before the “Back to Sleep” campaign began, but have plateaued in recent years.
The latest Vital Signs report from the CDC, based on survey data from 2015, sheds some light on why this may be:
- 22% of mothers report placing babies to sleep on their side or stomaches
- 61% of mothers report some bed-sharing with their babies
- 38% of mothers report using some soft bedding such as blankets in their infants’ sleep areas
As a previous CDC report showed, 20% of moms didn’t get any advice on the safest sleep practices and 25% actually got inaccurate advice.
Notably, the statistics on safe practices vary from state to state (Louisiana is the worst) and among different ethnicity groups or education levels—indicating that public health officials could do a better job at sending clear messages.
“This report shows that we need to do better at promoting and following safe sleep recommendations,” says Jennifer Bombard, M.S.P.H., scientist in CDC’s Division of Reproductive Health and lead author of the analysis. “This is particularly important for populations where data show infants may be at a higher risk of sleep-related deaths.”
Here are the formal recommendations for safe infant sleep practices from the AAP:
- Always place baby to sleep on his back
- Use a firm sleep surface, such as a safety-approved mattress and crib
- Keep soft objects and loose bedding out of the baby’s sleep area
- Share a room, not a bed
Straightforward as the recommendations may seem, the CDC report proves they have the power to save lives.