More Babies Are Dying in Their Sleep & It's Not Only SIDS' Fault, Warn Experts

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For years, parents have been given conflicting advice about how their newborns should be put to sleep -- there has been debate surrounding everything from the effectiveness of pacifiers during bedtime to the true safety of co-sleeping with infants. Unfortunately, a new study has revealed that these conflicting views and opinions have had some pretty dangerous effects on the number of newborns dying in their sleep


A new study conducted by researchers from MassGeneral Hospital for Children and Newton-Wesley Hospital and published in the Journal of Pediatrics found that there were 8,869 cases of sudden unexpected infant death (SUID) in the United States between 1995 and 2014. Using records obtained from the Centers for Disease Control, researchers studied records of infant births and deaths from 1995 to 2014. Within this window, they analyzed infant deaths that occurred in the first 27 days of life (neonatal) and infant deaths that occurred from 28 days to the first year (postneonatal). 

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The study concluded that between 1995 and 2014, the number of SUID deaths caused by suffocation or strangulation increased dramatically. In neonatal infants, the number rose from 2 percent to almost 23 percent, while in postneonatal babies, the number increased from almost 3 and a half percent to 25 percent. 

In 1992 the American Academy of Pediatrics introduced the "Back to Sleep" campaign. This campaign created safe-sleeping guidelines and recommendations for parents in an attempt to reduce the number of cases of SUID. SUID encompasses a wide range of situations, including sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), in which a seemingly healthy infant under the age of 1 dies suddenly and unexpectedly for causes that are not immediately known. Unfortunately, according to the results of this study, these guidelines have done little to curb the number of infants who die of SUID in the first month of life.

Centers for Disease Control

"The frequency of SUID in the first month of life is higher than generally recognized, at an average of 444 cases per year in the US, of which 66 per year occur on the first day and 130 occur in the first week of life," the study's lead author, Joel Bass, shared in a press release. "There actually has been a dramatic and unexpected increase in deaths attributed to suffocation and asphyxiation in both newborns and infants up to 1 year old, and these deaths are potentially preventable."

According to Science Daily, study co-author Ronald Kleinman says that these deaths may still be occurring at this frequency because parents don't fully recognize the importance of things like sleeping positions. 

Kleinman also shared that the uptick in campaigns made to promote skin-to-skin care while breastfeeding may also be contributing to these numbers. Kleinman explained that encouraging mothers to place their babies facedown on their chests during times when the women may be exhausted, fall asleep, and ultimately end-up co-sleeping may increase the risk of SIDS. 

Kleinman also stated that campaigns telling parents not to use pacifiers -- tools which are known to decrease the risk of SIDS -- may also be a huge factor in these infant deaths. Ultimately, researchers believe that campaigns that contradict known risk factors, the differing views of experts, and the lack of parental knowledge concerning the importance of proper sleep guidelines are all factors that may be preventing the reduction of infant sleeping deaths in the US. 

Kleinman and Bass's study also revealed that the number of deaths that occurred after the first 28 days of life fell almost 23 percent between 1995 and 2002; after that, they did not rise or fall at noticeable numbers. The rate at which infants died in the first 27 days of life remained completely unchanged in the 20-year period researchers studied. 

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"Overall, we think it is possible that certain neonatal practices resulting in unsafe sleep circumstances both during and after the birth hospitalization, along with pacifier avoidance, may have inadvertently interfered with the implementation of safe-sleep messages and prevented a decrease in the death rate," said Kleinman. "Future research is needed to more fully explore the best messaging during the birth hospitalization that will enhance safe-sleep practices recommended by both the National Institutes of Health and the AAP and help to prevent SUID."

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