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Babies Sleep Safest in Their Own Beds


WebMD Health News

Sept. 5, 2000 -- Cuddle, snuggle, and bond, but put infants in their own beds when it's time to sleep. That advice isn't entirely new -- but it is controversial. And when little lives are at stake, warnings bear repeating.

New research shows that three out of four babies who died of sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS, were found on a sleep surface not designed for them, such as chairs, hide-a-beds, sofas, or makeshift beds. The findings were reported in the September issue of the journal Pediatrics.

While SIDS is a rare event, nearly 3,000 babies die in their sleep each year from the puzzling phenomenon. The highest occurrence is in infants under four months of age.

Previous studies have suggested that sleeping on the stomach or sleeping on surfaces not designed for infants increases the risk of SIDS. Other studies have also found an increased risk of SIDS when bedsharing or when an infant's face or head gets covered by bedding.

The latest findings show that most sudden unexpected infant deaths involve sleep practices that should not have been used, according to lead author James S. Kemp, MD. "We emphasize that sleeping on a couch or adult bed with a child -- as we do in the U.S. -- should be discouraged because [adult] sleep surfaces are not safe for this purpose," he tells WebMD. Kemp is associate professor of pediatrics at St. Louis University School of Medicine and Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital in St. Louis.

In their review of 120 infant death cases, Kemp and his colleagues found infants were lying face down in more than half of the cases. Three-quarters of the babies were found on a sleep surface not intended for them, and nearly half of the deaths occurred when the infant shared a sleep surface with one or more bedmates, including parents or siblings. In one-third of the deaths, bedding covered the infant's head or face.

In less than 10% of the death cases reviewed were babies found in the recommended sleeping position, on proper surfaces, with their faces uncovered.

Based on their findings, Kemp and colleagues conclude "that the deaths may not have occurred if certain high-risk sleep practices had been avoided, and that the majority of deaths were preventable."

If there's any good news, it's that the rate of SIDS has dropped drastically in the last 10 years, according to Betty McEntire, PhD, executive director of the American SIDS Institute in Atlanta. The reason, she tells WebMD, is that "one of the big emphases has been in placing babies in a safe sleep environment, and that's a very simple thing."

McEntire stresses that babies be placed face up in their own bed on a firm mattress, with nothing around their face. That means no bumper pad, no toys, and no pillows.

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