Although the “Safe to Sleep” campaign urging parents to lay babies flat on their backs has been running for 23 years, new research shows that less than 50% of mothers report following the recommendation.
The Safe to Sleep campaign was created in 1994 as an effort to reduce the risk of sudden infant and child deaths (SIDS/SUDS), as well as other sleep-related deaths that involve suffocation. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has urged parents to place babies on their backs to sleep, going against a long-term grain that had babies sleeping on bellies as best.
A new study just released looked at data from 3, 297 mothers and found that 77.3% reported that they ‘usually, but not always,’ put their babies to sleep on their backs. Dr. Eve Colson is a co-author of the study and a professor of pediatrics at Yale School of Medicine. She says that the interesting aspect of the survey was that people often did something different than what they said they intended to do. Many said they knew it to be best, and planned to, but didn’t always follow through.
The survey results also showed that caregivers of the baby who were not parents tended to place babies on their stomachs more than three times as much as a parent would, saying they were concerned the baby would choke on their back, or they were more comfortable sleeping on their bellies.
Dr. Robin Jacobson is a pediatrician at NYU Langone Health, and said these beliefs may be from cultural and family influences, long-passed down through families, as well as from a lack of education. Parents and grandparents from generations before often put their babies on their bellies under the belief that it was more comfortable and would prevent baby from choking in their sleep, but that’s not scientifically based.
In order to compare racial groups with equal numbers, the researchers oversampled Hispanic and African-American mothers and found that African-American mothers said they were least likely to put babies to sleep on their backs when compared to other mothers in other demographics.
Dr. Rachel Moon is a pediatrician who studies SIDS rates in African-American communities and said that putting babies to sleep on their bellies is a cultural expectation because matriarchal family members are often more persuasive and trusted over pediatricians and other clinicians.
Moon also said that parents perceive babies to be uncomfortable if they are frequently waking or crying while on their backs, so they let the child determine the sleeping position.
The American Academy of Pediatrics advises that baby sleeps in the same room with parents until their child is at least six-months-old, and that they should be put on firm sleeping surfaces with tight-fitting sheets and no pillows or blankets so the baby doesn’t suffocate or overheat.
In order to make sure this is a widespread sample of knowledge, more education and conversations about infant sleep need to happen, and advertisers need to continue to use images of safe sleep practices, say the researchers in an editorial piece that accompanies the study.
More, the key is educating parents’ friends and families, facilitating open conversations about infant sleep and encouraging the media and advertisers to display images of safe sleep practices, according to an editorial accompanying the new study.
More, researchers say that healthcare providers need to send the same, consistent message about safe sleeping practices.