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It Takes a Village to Promote Infant Sleep Safety

New research suggests families, pediatricians and other medical providers work together to support safe infant sleep. (Caitlan Regan/Flickr)
New research suggests families, pediatricians and other medical providers work together to support safe infant sleep. (Caitlan Regan/Flickr)
August 23, 2017

COLUMBUS, Ohio - The expression, "It takes a village to raise a child," certainly rings true when it comes to infant sleep safety.

Since 1994, the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended that babies sleep on their backs to avoid the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. However, a new survey shows that fewer than half of mothers are consistently following the recommendation - even though more than half say it's a message they're hearing from their doctors.

Dr. Mike Gittelman, president-elect of the Ohio Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said pointing fingers isn't the solution.

"The blame game never seems to work," he said. "We have a problem: We have infant mortality and we have deaths to children. We need to stop that - and there are ways to go about doing that, and that is to change the social norm. It's to make sure that people are practicing the appropriate behaviors."

The research from the AAP suggested clear and consistent messaging from medical providers about the dangers of SIDS or suffocation when babies sleep on their stomachs or sides. It's also recommended that parents insist that other caregivers support their safe-sleep practices.

Safety education is an uphill battle for pediatricians, said Gittelman, as they compete with mixed parenting messages on the internet and old-school mentalities.

"How many times have you heard, 'When I was young, we had seven kids in the back of the station wagon, we didn't have seat belts, we were bouncing all around, no one got hurt.' Yeah, because you were lucky," he said. "But if you were in a collision, you could have gotten seriously hurt, and now we know that seat belts significantly prevent the risk of injury and death."

Gittelman noted that 3,500 infant deaths a year are related to unsafe sleep in the United States. He advised parents to learn the risks and follow the best behaviors for their children's health.

"Whenever they interview a family after they've had an injury," he said, "they say, 'I wish I knew this. Why didn't anyone tell me?' Well, we need to make sure everyone knows all of the risks, so they're not the ones that are saying, 'I wish this didn't happen to me.' "

Deaths from SIDS were cut in half over the past two decades, but it's still a leading cause of infant mortality. Ohio's infant mortality rate of more than 7 percent is higher than the national rate.

The study is online at pediatrics.aapublications.org.

This collaboration is produced in association with Media in the Public Interest and funded by the George Gund Foundation.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH