Study: Safe Sleep One of Several Elements in SIDS Prevention

December 18, 2015|5:04 p.m.| ASTHO Staff

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) created the “Back to Sleep” campaign, now known as “Safe to Sleep,” in 1994 to encourage safe infant sleep practices. Rates of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) have declined significantly since then, from 130.3 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1990 to 39.7 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2013. However, in a recent study published in the January 2016 issue of Pediatrics, researchers found that the national push toward safe sleep practices doesn’t entirely account for this reduction.

According to CDC, which works with NIH on the Safe to Sleep campaign, approximately 3,500 babies die of sudden unexpected infant death in the United States each year, a term that includes SIDS, unknown causes, and accidental suffocation or strangulation in bed. SIDS specifically accounts for 1,500 of those deaths annually. Although SIDS is now understood to have many, sometimes unknown, origins, experts have widely promoted “safe sleep procedures,” like having babies sleep in cribs, on their backs, with no soft bedding, to prevent SIDS. ASTHO created a Safe Infant Sleep factsheet that provides strategies for using these safe sleep procedures to help prevent SIDS and other cases of sudden unexplained infant death.

The Pediatrics study analyzed 900,000 infant deaths from SIDS between 1983 and 2012 and found that (in addition to safe sleep practices) premature birth, infant brain abnormalities, and exposure to smoking were important elements that increased a baby’s potential SIDS susceptibility. Therefore, the authors concluded, improvements in smoking and teen pregnancy rates and advances in prenatal care over the past several decades, including the use of prenatal steroids that improve infant respiration, may have also facilitated the 1990-2012 SIDS decline. In a related commentary, the study authors note that although it is still important to promote safe sleep practices, “public health efforts will need to also focus on decreasing intrinsic risk through the promotion of smoking cessation, elimination of in utero drug and alcohol exposure, and increasing rates of breastfeeding and access to high-quality prenatal care.”

Find more safe sleep resources and information about promising state practices and programs on ASTHO’s Safe Sleep web page, and learn more about ASTHO’s other initiatives to promote infant and child health on our Maternal and Child Health web page.