In a recent American Academy of Pediatrics news journal, a headline caught my eye. Reading through the article, it indicated that recent infant mortality data reviewed from the last twenty years has noted a three to four fold increase in infant deaths associated with accidental suffocation or accidental strangulation. This is a different classification than infant deaths attributed to SIDS. The formal cause of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome is often not known. SIDS associated deaths during this same time period decreased. Most researchers have agreed for some time that this decline was largely as a result of safe sleep promotions, such as the Back to Sleep campaign.
It is not clear why the number of accidental suffocation and strangulation deaths has risen. Many are looking to other factors in infants’ sleeping environments that may have changed in this same time period. Of note has been the approximately fifty percent increase in the incidence of bed sharing. When parents have an infant in bed with them, suffocation or strangulation by bedding, or being wedged or trapped between bedding and parent may occur. Because of these risks, the American Academy of Pediatrics has an official policy statement. It supports infants sleeping in the same room as a parent but advises against co-sleeping, or bed sharing.
As a pediatrician, I fully support the parents efforts to bond with their infants. This includes active breast feeding and keeping them close as much as possible. However, during both the post delivery hospital follow-up visit and subsequent well infant checks I remind parents of the appropriate sleep position (on the back) and the sleep place (in a bassinet or crib with flat bedding) to protect their newborns and infants as much as possible. I always share with parents that my job is to weight the potential harms and benefits of any practice or treatment. Then they are given the recommendation I feel is safe for their child. In this case, as a pediatric office, we support and follow the guidance issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Parents may review these guidelines and other safe sleep recommendations at the website of the AAP, aap.org, and search for sleep issues. Of course, your pediatrician is always happy to discuss this topic as well!