While experts are unsure of how or why Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) happens, there are guidelines agreed upon by various medical and health groups on how parents can reduce their babies' risk of SIDS. One that has proven highly effective is by putting baby to sleep on his back. Parents should also make sure that baby’s sleeping area is empty of anything other than his mattress and a tight-fitting sheet.
However, a recent study published in the journal Pediatrics has found that parents who have been educated about SIDS sometimes still put babies to sleep in unsafe ways or risky environments.
Researchers from Pennsylvania State University in the U.S. recorded videos of parents putting their babies to bed one night each at 1, 3 and 6 months old. They found many of the videos, of which they filmed from around 150 babies and their parents, showed risks directly linked to SIDS.
“Pediatricians talk about safe sleep positions during the newborn hospital stay. They are supposed to talk about it at every checkup through six months,” says study co-author Dr. Ian M. Paul, chief of the Division of Academic General Pediatrics and vice chairman of Clinical Affairs at Penn State College of Medicine. Despite of this, “almost all [of the videos] had risk factors for SIDS,” he said.
The most common risk that the videos showed was babies put in cribs with loose bedding, pillows, stuffed animals and other items that increase danger, said Dr. Paul. The videos also showed infants sleeping on their stomachs or sides, and in risky places like sofas and beside parents in bed.
Anywhere between 87 to 93 percent of the babies were sleeping with loose or unapproved items in the sleep area, during all three stages. These items include crib bumpers (padded blankets placed around a crib), and blankets, which the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) are strongly against because of their potential risk of suffocation, strangulation and entrapment.
Plus, 14 to 33 percent of the babies were positioned poorly (they were not placed on their backs as recommended). Ten to 21 percent were also placed on surfaces deemed unsafe for babies to sleep on like the sofa.
It’s also important to note that, when babies were 1 month old, nearly 3 out of 10 were taken out of their cribs and moved to sleep elsewhere. When this happened, they were more likely to not be put on their backs to sleep and sleep in their parents’ bed. “If infants were moved overnight, the second sleep environment generally had more hazards,” the researchers wrote.
However, it’s not the parents’ intention to put their baby at risk. Researchers speculate that parents may be compromising SIDS risks because they think it’s what will get their child to sleep faster, better or longer. “When you're exhausted, you may do what works to get a baby to sleep,” said Dr. Paul.
Rememeber, to reduce your baby's risk for SIDS, always place babies to sleep on their backs during naps and at nighttime. They will sleep comforably in this position. Because babies sleeping on their sides are more likely to accidentally roll onto their stomach, the side position is just as dangerous as the stomach position.
AAP has what it calls "tummy time," which refers to playtime when your baby is awake and he can be placed on his tummy while someone is watching him.
To see AAP's full safe sleep recommendations, click here.