A shocking number of babies — 50 percent — are put to sleep each night in unsafe bedding, according to a study published Monday by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
The study analyzed bedding use from 1993 to 2010 and identified pillows, blankets, and quilts as items that can block a baby’s airway and lead to suffocation. Researchers called this bedding a “recognized risk factor” for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), which afflicts more than 2,000 babies per year. And while infant bedding use is on the decline (from 86 percent between 1993 and 1995 to 55 percent between 2008 and 2010), it’s still common, particularly among babies with teenage mothers and those who sleep in adult beds, are put to sleep on their sides, or who share a sleeping space.
“It’s possible that many parents are unaware of current guidelines or just have a more relaxed approach to safe sleeping,” Jim Sears, PhD, a pediatrician and co-host of the television show The Doctors, tells Yahoo Parenting. “Others may get caught up in decorating their nurseries and there’s a huge market for pretty and trendy bed accessories, many of which are unnecessary and unsafe.” The bottom line, says Sears, is that babies should wear a cozy onesie or swaddle and sleep on their backs on a fitted sheet and nothing else.
Here are three tips for safe little sleepers.
Babies should sleep with a fan: According to a study of 185 babies conducted by the healthcare group Kaiser Permanente, infants that sleep in rooms with a fan lower their SIDS risk by 72 percent. “The idea is that babies often dip their heads down while sleeping and carbon dioxide can get ‘caught’ in bedding and disrupt breathing patterns,” says Sears. “But if air is circulating throughout the room, there’s lowered risk.” If you’re worried about your baby developing dry throat from a fan, you could also crack the window a few inches — the study also found a 36 percent reduction in SIDS among babies who felt an outside breeze.
Babies should sleep on their backs: After noting how many deaths occurred among stomach-sleeping infants, the AAP launched the “Back to Sleep” campaign in 1994 to encourage back sleeping, which carries a lowered risk of suffocation. “When guidelines were first established, side sleeping was also considered safe, however that requires the support of a rolled towel, which can obstruct breathing,” says Sears. “Eventually doctors dropped the side sleeping recommendation, but many parents still follow this outdated advice.”
Babies should sleep alone: Although it’s temping to snuggle up with your little one, a study of 8,000 babies published in the journal Pediatrics found a link between co-sleeping and SIDS — nearly 74 percent of deaths in babies younger than four months occurred in bed-sharing situations. That’s likely due to the potential for parents to smother the baby or for him or her to roll off the bed or get tangled in bedding. “For parents who really want to co-sleep, have the mother lie in between the father and the baby,” says Sears. “Men usually aren’t as innately conscious of an infant’s whereabouts.” Another tip: Use a co-sleeper, a bedside bassinet that attaches to the bed. “The sides are usually mesh so both mother and baby feel as though they’re in the same bed,” says Sears.