Back to sleep, no bumpers in cribs, no loose blankets—most parents have probably heard these warnings from their pediatrician or even on packaging for baby products everywhere by now. While no one knows exactly what causes Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), which is arguably every new parent's worst nightmare, experts do agree that one major step in preventing its occurrence is to ensure that the baby is sleeping in a safe sleep space.
Yet a startling report from the American Academy of Pediatrics shows that many parents are still putting their babies down to sleep in unsafe sleeping environments. The study, published in Pediatrics on August 15, video-recorded 160 babies' rooms and discovered that a staggering 91 percent of parents were putting their one-month-olds in cribs with all sorts of loose items like stuffed animals, blankets, bumpers and pillows. And they were doing this all while knowing they were being recorded.
Loose items, such as the ones mentioned above, are considered unsafe by the AAP as they can cause entanglement and strangulation, with the risk being especially high for infants who simply don't have the strength or motor skills to free themselves. And while newborns can't roll around yet, they do wiggle a lot, which could cause a blanket to end up on top of their face.
Sleep-related infant deaths are the most common cause of death for babies between one month and one year of age, according to the United States Department of Health and Human Services. In the U.S., 3,500 infants die suddenly in their sleep with no explanation.
The study also found that a third of babies were placed to sleep on their tummies or sides, despite an intensive "Back to Sleep" campaign that has been attempting to educated expecting parents to place babies to sleep on their backs instead. Some 21 percent of the one-month-olds were placed to sleep on unsafe sleeping surfaces such as their parents' beds, a swing or a car seat.
"What we found was disturbing," says senior researcher Dr. Ian Paul. He has several theories as to why so many parents seem ignorant about the rules of safe sleep or simply ignore them all together.
"One could be parents' lack of knowledge. One could be parents thinking this [SIDS] won't happen to them. And then there's the fact that parents of young infants are exhausted."
And baby product manufacturers may also be to blame. If parents keep going to the store and seeing packages of baby bedding that includes heavy blankets and crib bumpers, they may assumed that since the products are on the shelves and marketed to parents, they must be safe.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, SIDS rates have been declining since 1990, but the rates for accidental suffocation and strangulation have actually been increasing since the 90s and reached its highest rate in 2014.
Here are some basic rules for creating a safe sleep space for your baby:
- No loose items in cribs such as bumpers, blankets, stuffed animals, sleep positioners and pillows.
- Put Baby to sleep on their back.
- Don't let Baby get too hot. Dress them lightly for sleep.
- The safest place for Baby to sleep is in a crib with a firm mattress.