Risky Bedding Too Common for Babies, Study Finds

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Diana Taliun/Shutterstock
By Andrew M. Seaman

More than half of U.S. parents say their babies sleep with pillows, blankets and other loose bedding -- despite recommendations against their use from doctors and health officials, according to a new government study.

Removing loose bedding from a baby's sleeping environment is one way to reduce their risk of suffocation and sudden infant death syndrome, write the researchers, who are from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "We have little understanding of how many infants in the U.S. are put into sleeping environments where soft bedding or blankets may be used," said Carrie Shapiro-Mendoza, the study's lead author and senior scientist in the CDC's Division of Reproductive Health in Atlanta.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies be put to sleep on their backs on a firm sleep surface free of soft objects, including pillows, blankets and bumpers. Those recommendations are echoed by the Safe to Sleep program from the National Institutes of Health. "The danger is that thick blankets, quilt or pillows can obstruct the baby's airway, which would keep them from being able to breathe," Shapiro-Mendoza said in a phone interview.

Age, Education of Parents Affect Behavior

Recommendations about safe sleeping were first made in the mid-1990s. The researchers write in the journal Pediatrics that the rate of SIDS declined between 2000 and 2010. Meanwhile, the rate of sleep-related suffocation more than doubled from 7 cases per 100,000 newborns to about 16 per 100,000.

For the new study, the researchers used data on children younger than eight months, collected from 1993 to 2010 as part of the National Infant Sleep Position study.

The researchers write that about 86 percent of parents reported putting their babies to sleep with loose bedding between 1993 and 1995. That figure fell to about 55 percent between 2008 and 2010.

During the most recent period, the researchers found, teenage mothers and mothers with less than a high school education were most likely to use loose bedding.

Sleep Clothing Is All They Need

"It can be tricky for parents because they might see magazine and other images where they see babies with blanket and pillows," said Shapiro-Mendoza. "This may reinforce the idea that these activities are safe and that's the norm." "Parents are really well intentioned," she said. "They want to provide warmth and comfort to the baby, but all the baby really needs is infant sleep clothing." Baby sleep clothing keeps babies warm and does not entrap the child, she said.

Another recent study found about one in eight sudden and sleep-related deaths among infants occur when they're put to sleep on sofas.

Shapiro-Mendoza said parents need to know that the safest place for babies is on their backs on a firm mattress that's covered with a fitted sheet. "There's no need for other bedding," she said.
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