Each year in the U.S., about 900 babies under the age of 1 die suddenly and unexpectedly from “accidental suffocation in a sleep environment,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A study co-authored by professor Fern Hauck of UVA’s School of Medicine and published in the May issue of the journal Pediatrics took a deeper dive into understanding the cause of these suffocation deaths. Analyzing data from the CDC’s Sudden Unexpected Infant Death Case Registry, the researchers concluded that soft bedding—such as blankets, pillows or cushions—was responsible for most of these suffocation deaths, which occurred most often in an adult bed. The other main causes of sleep-related infant deaths were overlay (another person sharing the sleeping surface obstructs the infant’s airway) and wedging (the infant becomes trapped between objects such as a mattress and the wall). The results of this study provide further evidence supporting the importance of the practices promoted by the “Safe to Sleep” campaign from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: putting infants to sleep in the caregiver’s room, on an unshared sleep surface that meets Consumer Product Safety Commission standards and is free from soft bedding. However, Hauck acknowledges, because complex personal, economic and sociocultural factors play a role in choices regarding infant sleep, “we need to try to engage parents in the education process to address their choices and concerns about the guidelines.”
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