May 12, 2003 -- It's a sad tale: families who can't afford cribs with firm mattresses may be putting their newborns at risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
A new report looks deeply at the potential causes of SIDS. The findings are dramatic: Soft bedding and stomach sleeping are a lethal combination for infants -- increasing the risk of SIDS more than 20-fold. Placing infants to sleep on a couch or in a bed with other children can also be potentially deadly, according to findings in the study.
In fact, such practices may reflect economic hardships among families who can't afford firm mattresses and separate cribs for infants, say the authors of the study, which appears in the May issue of Pediatrics.
SIDS is defined as "the sudden death of an infant under one year of age, which remains unexplained after a thorough case investigation, including performance of a complete autopsy, examination of the death scene, and review of the clinical history."
"This study provides important new information regarding SIDS risk factors," says Duane Alexander, MD, director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, in a news release.
The study focused on all deaths -- 260 total -- of infants between birth to age one during a three-year period in Chicago. It included information provided by death scene investigators who conducted interviews about circumstances surrounding the deaths. It also included autopsy information.
"Our study found a dramatic increase in SIDS risk for prone sleeping on soft surfaces, highlighting the need to eliminate these unsafe sleep practices," says researcher Fern R. Hauck, MD.
Infants who died of SIDS were over five times more likely to have shared a bed with other children. Sleeping with the mother alone or the mother and father carried an increased risk of SIDS, but not greatly, researchers state. Also, sleeping with the mother alone did not prevent SIDS death, they say.
Bedding and sleep position were the biggest factors in infant deaths. Soft bedding posed five times the risk of SIDS as firm bedding. Sleeping on the stomach more than doubled the risk. Those factors together increased risk 21-fold over infants who slept on their backs on firm bedding.
Prone sleeping on soft bedding may cause the infant to be smothered or overheated, researchers say.
Sofa sleeping with an infant also led to many deaths, possibly because infants became smothered, they say.
For families hard-pressed financially, the expense of firmer mattresses and separate cribs may be partly to blame for SIDS deaths, they speculate.