Researchers Find 55 Percent of Infants Sleep with Unsafe Bedding
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Researchers Find 55 Percent of Infants Sleep with Unsafe Bedding

December 1, 2014

A study conducted by researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Center for Disease Control (CDC) found that 55 percent of infants sleep with unsafe bedding.

Despite decades-old recommendations that babies should sleep on a bare mattress, more than half of infants still sleep with soft and loose bedding, like thick blankets, quilts and pillows. This type of bedding increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and suffocation.

Researchers compiled and analyzed responses from about 20,000 caregivers between 1992 and 2010, and found that about 55 percent of babies slept with soft bedding between 2008 and 2010.

Although still considered high by experts, this is a significant drop from 1993 – 1995 when 86 percent of babies slept with soft bedding.

In 1992 the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommended that infants sleep on their backs. Since then, the rate of SIDS, which is the unexplained death of an infant, dropped 50 percent. In 2011 the AAP updated its guidelines to include recommendations that babies sleep on a firm mattress with no bedding.

While the rate of SIDS is dropping, researchers found an increase in other unexpected infant deaths including accidental suffocation and entrapment in bedding material. Accidental suffocation deaths have increased from 7 per 100,000 live births in 2000 to about 16 in 2010.

Researchers did find significant declines in the number of infants that were covered in heavy bedding like thick blankets and comforters, but didn't see the same for the number of infants who were sleeping on top of soft bedding.

"Interestingly, we also observed a greater decline in bedding use over the infants (quilts/comforters and thick blankets) compared with bedding (blankets) under infants," the study authors wrote. "This finding raises a concern that parents may incorrectly perceive the recommendations as only pertaining to items covering or around the infant, and not include items under the infant."

When analyzing demographic data, researchers found that between 1993 and 2010, 84 percent of teen moms and 82 percent of moms with less than a high school education used soft bedding. African-American and Hispanic mothers had higher rates than their white counterparts. About 58 percent of white, college-educated mothers used soft bedding.

Researchers speculate that images of plush bedding in advertisements, magazines and online help reinforce the notion that using soft bedding is safe and acceptable.

To prevent SIDS and other accidental deaths, babies should sleep on their back on a firm mattress that fits snuggly in a crib or bassinette that is located – if possible – in the same room as the parents. No bedding aside from a tight fitted sheet should be used, including bumpers, pillows, blankets and stuffed animals. Babies can wear a onesie, or for extra warmth, a sleep sack or special sleep blanket.