New parents (and grandparents): Listen up!

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Since 1994, new and expecting parents have been told to put their babies Back to Sleep. This pithy public health campaign, which emphasized that the safest way to put babies to bed is on their backs, has helped reduce the incidence of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) by over 50 percent in 10 years. But now this salutary decline in mortality rate has plateaued, according to Dr. Henry Krous, director of Pathology Research at Rady Children s Hospital in San Diego and author of a recent study on SIDS.

For the study just published in the journal Pediatrics, Dr. Krous and his colleagues investigated over 550 known SIDS deaths in San Diego county between 1991 and 2008. They found that, although the percentage of SIDS infants put to sleep prone (on their bellies) decreased from 85 percent to 30 percent, the number of infants found dead in bed with one or more adults nearly doubled during the study period. Furthermore, the percentage of SIDS infants found alone on an adult mattress rose from 23 percent to 45 percent.

Other factors that contributed to the risk of SIDS included side sleep positions, bed sharing, over-bundling, soft bedding or toys in the crib, covering the baby s head, or sleeping on an adult mattress, couch, or playpen. In fact, 57 percent of the SIDS cases investigated involved at least two of these factors.

It s extremely important that parents be aware of these risk factors, says ACSH s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan. And even more so, grandparents who come from a generation told that it was OK, or even preferable, for babies to sleep on their stomachs should be especially cognizant of this important change in recommended sleep position.

Alhough researchers have not been able to pinpoint the exact cause of SIDS, at least there are proven ways to help prevent it. It should almost be obvious that putting babies in bed with adults is a no-no, says ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross, but apparently it s still happening. Parents, grandparents, and all caregivers should be advised of these important prevention strategies. Unlike so-called toxic plastics that too many parents now worry about, SIDS is a real risk to infants.