Unsafe Sleep Practices Linked to Three-Quarters of Infant Deaths, Study Finds

Charlottesville, Virginia – Babies who die unexpectedly in their sleep are often exposed to multiple hazards that could have led to their deaths, according to a recent study. The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, found that three-quarters of Sudden Unexpected Infant Deaths (SUID) are linked to unsafe sleep practices.

Researchers analyzed nearly 7,600 SUID cases in the United States between 2011 and 2020. The study revealed that 60% of SUID cases involved infants sharing a sleep surface when they died, a practice highly discouraged due to the risk of accidental suffocation. Specific hazardous sleep practices included sharing a bed with someone else, sleeping with soft items, and sleeping on their bellies or sides.

Dr. Fern Hauck, a senior researcher and safe-sleep expert at the University of Virginia School of Medicine, emphasized the importance of working with families to increase awareness of safe sleep practices for infants. Recommendations include having babies sleep alone on their backs in a crib covered only with a fitted sheet to minimize the risk of suffocation.

The study also showed that babies who died while sleeping alone most often were found on their bellies or sides with soft bedding present. These findings highlight the need for healthcare providers to have meaningful conversations with families at risk to address barriers preventing the implementation of safe sleep guidelines.

According to the researchers, efforts should be made to educate parents before they leave the hospital and to provide ongoing support in creating safe sleep environments for their infants. Hospitals can play a crucial role in directing struggling families to resources that can help them afford cribs or bassinets for their babies.

In conclusion, the study underscores the importance of promoting safe sleep practices to reduce SUID cases. By increasing awareness and providing support to families, healthcare providers can help prevent unnecessary deaths of infants due to unsafe sleep environments.