Sleep Safety Practices Found Major Factor in Sudden Infant Deaths, Study Shows

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Virginia – A recent study reveals that many babies who die unexpectedly in their sleep are exposed to multiple hazards that may have contributed to their deaths. The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, found that unsafe sleep practices are present in 76% of Sudden Unexpected Infant Deaths (SUID).

Researchers analyzed nearly 7,600 SUID cases that occurred in the U.S. between 2011 and 2020. They discovered that 60% of SUID cases involved an infant sharing a sleep surface at the time of death. This practice is strongly discouraged due to the risk of unintentional suffocation if an adult or another child rolls over onto the baby.

Senior researcher Dr. Fern Hauck from the University of Virginia School of Medicine expressed alarm at the large number of hazardous sleep practices observed in the study, emphasizing the importance of creating safer sleep environments for infants. Experts recommend that babies sleep alone on their backs in a crib with only a fitted sheet to reduce the risk of suffocation.

The study also found that the majority of babies who died while sharing a sleep surface were sleeping in an adult bed, with soft bedding, and on their bellies or sides. These factors are known risk factors for SUID and highlight the need for better education on safe sleep practices for parents.

Furthermore, the results indicated that efforts should be made to educate new parents before leaving the hospital and to provide ongoing support and guidance on safe sleep practices. Recommendations include ensuring that babies sleep alone on their backs without any soft toys, bumpers, or blankets in the crib.

Hauck stressed that SUID deaths in the U.S. are higher than in many other countries, underscoring the importance of clinicians and caregivers having open conversations with families to address barriers to following safe-sleep guidelines. Hospitals can also play a role in directing struggling families to resources that can help them obtain a safe sleep space for their baby.

Overall, the study’s findings emphasize the critical need for increased awareness and education surrounding safe sleep practices to help reduce the number of SUID cases in the U.S.