Most Moms Are Not Putting Babies To Sleep Safely, Study Says

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Most Moms Are Not Putting Babies To Sleep Safely, Study Says
Photo – Ben_Kerckx –

One of the most terrifying things that scare parents is losing a child. It is unnatural for a child to be buried by his/her parents but it does happen, either through disease or sudden accidents. As parents, we do everything in our power to keep our beloved children safe — but what if advice from your friends or your parents is actually placing your baby at risk?

SIDS or sudden infant death syndrome is the leading cause of death in infants. How a child is affected by SIDS is still largely unknown. It happens to seemingly healthy babies less than a year old if they die in their cribs while they are sleeping. [1][2]

Positioning Your Child Helps Reduce Their SIDS Risk

Can you believe that something as simple as positioning your baby on his or her back can reduce their risk for crib death by more than half? In 1994, a campaign called Back to Sleep was created by the NIH and the American Academy of Pediatrics in order to educate caregivers — parents, grandparents, and many others — about how they could reduce the risk for SIDS. One of the main points emphasized by this program was placing a child in a supine position when putting them to sleep. Since then, SIDS statistics has dropped significantly — by half to be exact. From roughly one death per 1,000 births in 1994 to half: 1 in 2,000 births by 2015. Back to Sleep has since then been renamed as “Safe to Sleep” but upholds the same goals as before — to fight SIDS and keep our children safe. [1][3]

More Work Still Needs To Be Done

Despite the amazing results that the Back to Sleep program has been able to accomplish, more work still needs to be done. In a recent publication in the American Academy of Pediatrics journal in August 2017, researchers included mothers from 32 US hospitals in a study and found worrying statistics. The study’s objective was to find out current maternal practices regarding proper child positioning and the factors that were involved in their decision making. [4]

Out of roughly 3000 mothers, 77.3% reported that they usually placed their infants on their back — not bad, at first glance. However, further questioning revealed that only 43.7% of mothers exclusively placed their babies on their back to sleep. This is worrying since sleeping on the stomach profoundly increases a baby’s risk of dying from SIDS. Furthermore, the researchers found that African American mothers who were not able to complete high school were more likely to use the prone position when putting their babies to sleep. The different factors that affected a mother’s choice were attitudes, subjective norms, perceived control, and physician advice (the first three are planned behavior factors).

Dr. Colson, the study’s head researcher, discussed their findings by focusing on how a mother’s intention differed from actual practice. When they dug deep into interviewing the mothers involved in the study, two main critiques were revealed for back sleep: (1) fear that the baby might choke and (2) that back sleep was uncomfortable for babies. Despite medical advice regarding proper child positioning, mothers were more likely to listen to advice from parental figures in their lives or even close friends — even if that advice differed from that of a doctor’s or health care providers. Familial influence played a very big role in decision making, especially among new mothers.

Looking Into Racial Differences

Colson’s study also looked into the differences between the practices of Hispanic and African-American women and non-Hispanic white mothers. The researchers found that African-American mothers were the least likely to place their baby on their backs during sleep, compared to other demographics in the study. Looking at the current SIDS data from the CDC, the researchers found parallels with their results. Out of 3,700 unexpected infant deaths in the US in 2015, the death rate among non-Hispanic black infants was 170.2 per 100,000 live births, more than twice that of non-Hispanic white infants, which were at 83.8 per 100,000. This overlap of data suggests that sleep position does play a big role in a child’s risk for sudden unexpected death. [5]

What The Guidelines Say

According to the latest American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines, parents should sleep in the same room (but not have the baby in the same bed!) as the infant until they are 6 months old. Likewise, babies should be placed on their backs on a firm surface with a tight-fitted sheet — with no pillows or blankets! Those make a child prone to suffocation and overheating.

The main point of all these studies and campaign is education. We need to educate mothers and caregivers better in order to protect our children. Not only that, Dr. Moon, a pediatrician who specializes in SIDS, emphasizes the importance of adhering with a single set of guidelines – the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Safe to Sleep — because “every single health care provider needs to be saying the same thing”.


[1] Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Fast Facts About SIDS.

[2] Mayo Clinic. Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

[3] Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Safe to Sleep.

[4] Colson, E., et. al. (2017). Factors Associated With Choice of Infant Sleep Position.

[5] Emanuel, D. (2017). Most moms aren’t putting babies to sleep safely, study says.

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