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The Making of Medicine

Multiple Unsafe Sleep Practices Common in Baby Deaths

Our Dr. Fern Hauck and colleagues reviewed more than 7,500 cases of Sudden Unexpected Infant Death between 2011 and 2020 and found that there were multiple unsafe sleep practices in more than three-quarters of them.

Of the 7,595 deaths reviewed, almost 60% of the infants were sharing a sleep surface, such as a bed, at the time of death. This practice is strongly discouraged because of the risk a parent or other bed partner could unintentionally roll over and suffocate the baby.

It was rare, however, for bedsharing to be the only unsafe sleep practice, Dr. Hauck and her team report in a new paper.

“The large number of hazardous sleep practices for both infants who were sharing a sleep surface and sleeping alone at the time of death is alarming,” Dr. Hauck said. “These are known risk factors for SUID and tells us that we need to do a better job of working with families to increase acceptance of the recommendations to create safer sleep spaces for their infants.” 

Care providers also should make sure parents can follow through on those safe-sleep practices once they leave the hospital, Dr. Hauck says. For example, a hospital might direct a family that cannot afford a crib or bassinet to resources that can provide one or help cover the cost.

“SUID deaths in the U.S. are still higher than in most other countries, and this is unacceptable," Dr. Hauck said. “Clinicians and others caring for infants need to have thoughtful conversations with families at risk to understand the barriers to following safe-sleep guidelines and find ways to work together to overcome them.”

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