The why is not known, but University of Virginia researchers and the American Academy of Pediatrics are recommending a what.
The academy has updated its safe-sleep guidelines for infants for the first time in more than five years, recommending babies sleep on their backs on flat, firm surfaces to minimize the risk of Sudden Unexpected Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are around 3,400 sudden unexpected infant deaths each year.
Dr, Rachel Moon, with the UVa Children’s medical center is the lead author of the updated guidelines. She said the best way for parents to protect their babies is to follow the updated recommendations.
“In addition to recommending the baby sleep on a firm surface, we have added flat to the recommendation for the surface,” said Moon. “That is because the new data shows that babies who are at a slant have more difficulty keeping their airway straight. They work harder to do that and so they can fatigue faster and that can be problematic.”
During the 1990s, the United States improved greatly in preventing sudden infant deaths after an education campaign advised parents to have their babies sleep on their backs.
The decline has plateaued for more than 20 years and safe-sleep experts hope that new measures will breed new success.
Still, even if parents comply with all of the guidelines, there is still a chance of SIDS occurring.
“There is, but it is much lower, which is why we have these recommendations,” said Moon. “Unfortunately, there are some babies for whom everything is done correctly and the baby still dies.”
Exactly why the deaths occur in otherwise healthy babies is not known for sure.
“Probably it’s because of a combination of factors just like any other disease,” Moon said. “It is a combination of physical factors and practices. It’s a combination of things that are within you, physically.”
Moon said it could be related to an issue some babies have in waking themselves up from sleep.
“We think that these babies are vulnerable because they may have more difficulty waking up. They can’t arouse when they’re encountered with a threat to their breathing,” she said. “And then that, in combination with a sleep environment, is what creates that kind of a threat.”
Dr. Moon also said that in terms of being susceptible to SIDS, 60% of deaths that occur suddenly and unexpectedly are in male babies while 40% occur in female babies. Why is not known.
UVa Health’s Dr. Fern Hauck, a member of the academy’s task force on SIDS, said the difference between the 2016 guidelines and those recently published are small but important.
“Bumper pads should not be used in the crib,” said Hauck. “The sleep surface should comply with all federal safety standards and, while parents can use home cardiorespiratory monitors, there is no proof that it will prevent SIDS.”
Some other recommendations include parents sleeping in the same room as the baby, but not be on the same bed.
Parents should strictly avoid exposing babies to alcohol and drugs and they should not leave babies to sleep on their stomachs.
In addition, parents should look to breastfeed their children when possible because it is linked to reducing the risk of SIDS.
“The more you can breastfeed and the longer you can breastfeed, the more you protect your baby against these sudden and unexpected deaths,” Moon said. “We understand that some families can’t breastfeed or choose not to breastfeed so for them then the [baby] formula would be the option.”