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Keeping infants safe while they sleep

December 3, 2014

How to keep babies safe while they sleep

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  • Medical School
More than half of infants sleep with soft bedding despite risk of sudden death.

A new report from the Centers for Disease Control confirms that a majority of American parents continue to put their babies to sleep with soft bedding, despite warnings that blankets, pillows and objects such as stuffed toys put infants at increased risk of sudden death due to suffocation. Sudden unexpected infant death is the leading cause of death among infants under age 1.

Published in Pediatrics, “Trends in Infant Bedding Use: National Infant Sleep Position Study, 1993–2010,” which finds that 55 percent of infants are put to bed in unsafe sleep environments, is being hailed as a wake-up call by pediatricians.

“There are just too many deaths attributable to unsafe sleep, which I will continue to stress are mostly preventable,” said UMass Medical School pediatrician Linda Sagor, MD, MPH. “As health care providers we have a very important role to play in advising our patients—and helping them keep their children safe through the first few months of life.”

Dr. Sagor, clinical professor of pediatrics and a consultant to the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families, has been at the forefront of the statewide Safe Sleep Initiative. Pediatricians are advocating for safe infant sleep practices in the wake of an unexplained increase in sudden infant deaths in Massachusetts in recent years.

Following a dramatic 50 percent decline in sudden infant death rates over the last two decades, a leveling off in recent years has placed renewed focus on other causes for what is still an unacceptable level of preventable sudden infant deaths.

According to Dr. Sagor, most of these deaths could have been prevented.“Reviews of these deaths have determined that many, if not most, are related to unsafe sleep positions and unsafe sleep environments,” she said.

The American Academy of Pediatrics updated its policy on safe sleep in 2011. In addition to the continuing recommendation to put all babies to sleep on their backs in a crib with a firm surface free of blankets, pillows, bumpers, quilts and stuffed animals, it also advises no bed or couch sharing.

“We are doing everything in our practice to make sure our patients understand what constitutes safe sleep practices,” said Sagor.

Hear more on infant sleep safety from Sagor in this Expert’s Corner video, and learn more about keeping infants safe while they sleep.

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