The rate of sleep-related infant deaths has declined more than 50 percent since the 1994 Back-to-Sleep campaign was launched, encouraging parents to place infants to sleep on their backs. Unfortunately, sleep-related infant deaths still claim 3,500 lives in the United States every year.
Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is the term most commonly heard in relation to sleep-related infant deaths, and safe sleep practices have been designed to reduce SIDS. But risks of other sudden and unexpected infant deaths, including accidental suffocation and entrapment, can also be lowered using safe sleep practices.
These deaths are unpredictable. In most cases the baby seems healthy yet death occurs quickly. However, you can take several steps toward prevention.
The ABCs of Safe Sleep
The easiest way to remember safe sleep practices for your infant is to use the A-B-C acronym. Babies should sleep:
- On their Backs
- In a Crib
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the authority in SIDS prevention and safe sleep, offers several additional recommendations for creating the safest sleep environment possible for your baby. Follow these guidelines to decrease the risk of SIDS and other sleep-related infant deaths:
- Put your baby to sleep in the same room as you, but not in the same bed. In other words, share your room, but not your bed. Aim to do this for the first year of your baby’s life if possible, and for at least the first six months. Avoiding bed-sharing reduces the risk of SIDS by as much as 50 percent.
- Always place your baby on his or her back for every sleep time—both naptime and nighttime—and make sure other caregivers and family members do the same.
- Breastfeed your baby if possible.
- Do not smoke during pregnancy or after delivery. Do not allow others to smoke around your baby.
- Always use a firm, flat sleep surface for your baby.
- Do not use fluffy blankets or other soft materials under your baby when going to sleep, and do not use wedges or other sleep positioners.
- Keep stuffed toys, bumper pads and pillows out of the crib.
- Avoid overheating in the crib, keeping your baby warm but not too warm. In general, babies need one more layer of clothing than you are comfortable sleeping in.
- Know how to safely swaddle your baby.
- Offer a pacifier at bedtime or naptime.
- Immunize your baby.
Room Sharing vs. Bed Sharing
We understand that some cultures highly value the practice of bed sharing and that several popular parenting approaches, including attachment parenting, encourage bed sharing along with other specific parenting practices.
Due to the risks of suffocation, strangulation and SIDS, our recommendation is to avoid bed sharing entirely. If you do choose to bed share, talk with your pediatrician about how to keep your baby as safe as possible during sleep.
Giving Your Baby a Healthy Start
These recommendations come from research done over the past 30 years. Many new parents envision their infant with soft blankets and cute stuffed animals — and that’s still OK, but not when your baby is sleeping. Research has shown that following these guidelines for healthy babies from birth to 1 year reduces the risk of sleep-related infant deaths.
It is important to note that due to some specific heath conditions, physicians may individualize recommendations for sleep. Work with your child’s physician to create the safest sleep plan.
Editor’s note: Stephanie Napolitano, MD, MPH, a fellow in the medical center’s Newborn Intensive Care Unit also contributed to this blog post, as did Jessica Seeberger, a safe sleep expert with Cradle Cincinnati, a network of partners dedicated to reducing preterm birth and infant mortality in Hamilton County.