Deadly decision: Where should baby sleep?

October 06, 2003

ST. LOUIS -- Babies who are put to sleep in an adult bed face a risk of suffocation that is as much as 40 times greater than babies who sleep in standard cribs, a Saint Louis University researcher says in this month's issue of Pediatrics.

"The odds of death go up dramatically among babies who use adult beds," says James Kemp, M.D., one of the researchers and an associate professor of pediatrics at Saint Louis University School of Medicine and director the Sleep Lab at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital. "The numbers are gigantic, much higher than I had thought. It's the best data available right now."

Between 13 and 14 percent of parents say they share beds with their babies. Dr. Kemp calls for a public awareness campaign to alert parents to the dangers of the practice.

"Granted, you want to be close to your baby at night time. But we don't think babies should be in adult beds. This has to be a risk assessment and it remains a terrible idea to share an adult bed with a baby."

Dr. Kemp says younger infants may be at the greatest risk of death in adult beds because they lack the motor skills to escape potential threats to their safety, such as soft bedding or being trapped between the bed and the wall. The study examined the risk of babies under 8 months suffocating.

"For beds not designed for infants, it is difficult to control potential hazardous arrangements causing suffocation," Dr. Kemp says. "Infant deaths diagnosed as suffocation in adult beds and on sofas are being increasingly reported in the U.S. while suffocation deaths in cribs are declining."

The study looked at reported deaths during the four-year period from 1995 to 1998, and found the risk of suffocation for babies in cribs was .63 deaths per 100,000 infants, compared 25.5 deaths per 100,000 infants who suffocate in adult beds.

October is Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) awareness month, and Dr. Kemp is optimistic that the new research that quantifies the risk factor of putting babies to sleep in adult beds will convince parents to do everything they can to keep their babies safe.

In 1992 the American Academy of Pediatrics began recommending that parents place their babies on their backs to sleep to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Since the awareness campaign, the SIDS rate has been cut nearly in half.

"While sleep position plays an importing role in keeping babies safe, it is only part of the solution," Dr. Kemp says. "Putting a baby to sleep in an adult bed is dangerous, and a risk that parents don't have to take. A sleeping baby belongs in a crib or other approved baby bed."
-end-
Established in 1836, Saint Louis University School of Medicine has the distinction of awarding the first M.D. degree west of the Mississippi River. Saint Louis University School of Medicine is a pioneer in geriatric medicine, organ transplantation, chronic disease prevention, cardiovascular disease, neurosciences and vaccine research, among others. The School of Medicine trains physicians and biomedical scientists, conducts medical research, and provides health services on a local, national and international level.

Saint Louis University

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