Many Parents Don't Place Their Babies to Sleep on Their Backs

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Many U.S. parents don't place their babies to sleep on their backs, even though putting babies down on their backs is recommended to lower babies' risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), a new study suggests.

Researchers found that, in some states, half of parents do not follow guidelines that recommend placing infants to sleep on their backs. About two-thirds of U.S. babies born after full term pregnancies are positioned to sleep on their backs, but among preterm infants the rate is lower.

"Given that supine [on the back] sleep positioning significantly reduces an infant's risk for SIDS, it is worrisome that only two-thirds of full-term infants born in the U.S. are being placed back-to-sleep," study author Dr. Sunah Hwang, a neonatologist at Boston Children's Hospital and South Shore Hospital in Massachusetts, said in a statement.

"More concerning is that adherence to safe sleep positioning is even lower for preterm infants who are at even greater risk for SIDS compared to term infants," Hwang said.

Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), also called crib death, is a sudden and unexplained death of a child under 1 year old. More than 2,000 U.S. babies died from SIDS in 2010, and it is the leading cause of death in babies under 1, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The causes of SIDS are not clear to researchers.

In the study, the researchers examined data from a survey that monitors new mothers after they leave the hospital. In the survey, the mothers were asked about the positions in which they usually put their babies to sleep. The study focused on nearly 400,000 infants born in 36 states. [7 Baby Myths Debunked]

The rates of mothers putting their babies to sleep on their backs varied by state. Alabama had the lowest rate, with 50-percent rate of babies positioned to sleep on their backs, while Wisconsin had the highest rate at 81 percent.

Although researchers are not sure what exactly causes SIDS, they do know that sleeping on the back lowers the risk of infant death in the first year of life, Hwang said. "The Back-to-Sleep campaign reduced the rate of SIDS by 50 percent in the 1990s," she said, referring to the public health campaign led by the National Institutes of Health. "Since 2001, this rate has remained stagnant," she said.

The study will be presented today (May 3) at the Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) annual meeting in Vancouver.

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