In 1992, The American Academy of Pediatrics stated that putting babies to sleep on their backs greatly reduced Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) rates. The SIDS rate in China was very low compared to the rate in the United States.
Chinese tend to put their babies to sleep on their backs. When researchers looked into back sleeping, they found that babies who are put to sleep on their stomachs have more difficulty rousing from a deep slumber.
A survey of mothers taken in 1992, when the SIDS rate was still high, found that only 13% of infants were placed on their backs to sleep. These findings led to the initiation of a program in 1994 in the United States called the “Back To Sleep Campaign.” This campaign promotes that infants under one year of age should be put to sleep on their backs, and not on their stomach or sides.
Another survey was conducted in 2006. This new survey showed that over 75% of infants were being placed on their backs to sleep and the sudden infant death syndrome rate had, in fact, dropped dramatically.
The back to sleep campaign also targets education in other areas to prevent other factors such as unsafe bed-sharing, exposure to tobacco smoke and extra blankets in the infants bed. The campaign also helps to answer parents’ questions like:
1. Will my baby choke on spit-up?
Research proves that babies have adequate mechanisms to cough or swallow spit-up and no choking evidence has been found in SIDS deaths.
2. What if my baby’s head flattens?
Taking measures such as giving baby adequate “tummy time” during awake hours, repositioning, and strategies to reduce pressure on the back of an infant’s head can all help reduce flattening of the skull. Tummy time, if performed often enough, also provides for proper development of motor skills.
The biggest concern with the promotion of “Back To Sleep” is alleviating parents’ fears and questions about putting their babies to sleep on their backs. The campaign strives to provide enough information to parents, grandparents and caregivers of all backgrounds, so that they can understand how important it is to put babies to sleep on their backs.
The last goal of the initiative is to reach other caregivers such as grandparents and babysitters. Some people have put babies to sleep on their stomachs for many years and think that it is an acceptable practice because they have never lost a baby to SIDS.
Every baby is different, even within the same family, and there is no way to tell which infants are at risk of sudden infant death syndrome. Some parents may have a hard time talking to grandparents about these things. The “Back To Sleep” campaign seeks to alleviate “old wives tales” and help people understand the importance of back sleeping for infants under one year of age.
The “Back To Sleep Campaign” and its Effect on SIDS
As of 2008, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome was still the most common cause of death among infants aged one month to one year. The numbers show that there were still many babies being put to sleep on their stomachs in that year – at least 14.5%, compared to 11% in 2009. As the numbers of tummy sleeping babies drop, the SIDS rate also decreases.
Outreach programs are now targeting different populations that still have higher rates of sudden infant death syndrome. Brochures and literature are now being printed in Spanish, and efforts are being made to produce publications for Native American and Alaskan Indian populations as well. There is also more outreach in the African American community. The hope of these increased efforts is to lower SIDS numbers even further.
Areas with higher rates of teen pregnancy are also being targeted; one of these states is Mississippi. This state seems to have a very high SIDS rate in all age brackets, as well as a very high teen pregnancy rate. Teens tend to have less healthy pregnancies, partially due to the lack of prenatal care during early pregnancy.
The cause of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome has yet to be found, but placing infants to sleep on a firm mattress with few blankets can reduce the risk of SIDS.
Research has been underway since the 1980s, and some risk factors have been identified, including the presence of brain stem defects, genetic anomalies in the brain and serotonin receptors, and higher incidence in certain ethnic groups. Things like lack of prenatal care, young maternal age and smoking have also been found to influence the numbers of SIDS cases.
Evidence shows that the “Back to Sleep” campaign has greatly reduced the numbers of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. The most daunting tasks at hand are to continue outreach efforts in communities that still have higher numbers of SIDS, and to provide educational materials that are easy to understand for all cultural groups.
In addition, other caregivers such as grandparents and babysitters need to be educated regarding safe infant sleep practices. With hard work and educational outreach, the SIDS numbers can keep dropping.
For more information about how to prevent SIDS in your infant, please visit our article with tips for SIDS prevention.