Study Finds Alarming Number of Infants Engaging in Unsafe Sleep Practices

New York, NY – Unsafe sleep practices continue to contribute to a significant number of sudden unexpected infant deaths in the United States. A recent study published in Pediatrics highlighted that three-quarters of infants who died from these tragedies were affected by multiple unsafe practices, with close to 60% sharing a sleep surface with another person. Sudden unexpected infant death, or SUID, affects infants under 1 year old who die suddenly and without an obvious cause, accounting for around 3,400 deaths annually in the U.S.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and other agencies strongly discourage infants from sharing a sleep surface with parents, other adults, or other infants and children due to the increased risk of these deaths. However, the study found that bedsharing, also known as surface sharing, was alarmingly common among the infants included in the research, who were part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s SUID Case Registry.

Among the characteristics of infants who were bedsharing at the time of death, it was noted that they were more likely to be 0 to 3 months old, non-Hispanic Black, insured by Medicaid or other public plans, found lying on their back in an adult bed, chair, or couch, exposed to maternal cigarette smoking while in the womb, supervised by someone impaired by drugs or alcohol at the time of death, and did not have a crib in the home.

Furthermore, the study revealed that among nonsharing infants, only one-third were sleeping in the recommended back position, and three-quarters were in sleep areas with soft bedding such as pillows, comforters, or bumper pads at the time of death. It was found that three-quarters of all sudden unexpected infant deaths in the study were influenced by multiple unsafe sleep factors.

Despite the availability of guidelines for safe infant sleep from organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, rates of sudden unexpected infant deaths have only slightly changed in the past 20 years, with growing racial-ethnic disparities, particularly among non-Hispanic Black infants. The study emphasizes the preventability of these deaths by following the recommended safe sleep practices.

Efforts are being made to educate families about safe infant sleep, with various studies underway to find effective ways to engage and inform parents, especially those at highest risk. Initiatives providing free cribs to families in need are helping to ensure a safe sleep space for infants. It is essential for healthcare providers to consider cultural practices and preferences when advising families on safe sleep practices to work towards eliminating sudden unexpected infant deaths and the persisting racial-ethnic disparities.