If infants were put to sleep by themselves, in cribs and on their backs, deaths from sudden infant death syndrome would plunge, according to research conducted by the Allegheny County Health Department.
SIDS is the sudden, unexpected death of a child under the age of 1 in which an autopsy does not indicate a cause of death. About 7,000 infants die from SIDS in the United States each year. Victims are more often little boys than little girls. SIDS is most likely to strike infants between the ages of 2 months and 4 months. African-American babies are three times more likely to die from SIDS.
The Allegheny County Child Death Review Team reviewed 87 SIDS deaths between 2005 and 2010. They found that 75 percent of the infants who died were not in a crib or bassinet; nearly 60 percent were sleeping with other people, and 55 percent were not sleeping on their backs.
Parents also should keep anyone from smoking around a baby, said Ron Voorhees, acting county health director.
Babies should sleep in cribs because the firmer sleep surface they provide is safer for them, and the cozier sleep environment makes them feel more secure. There should be nothing in the crib but the baby -- no blankets, pillows or toys. When the infant is very young, the crib should be in the same room as the mother.
Babies who sleep in bed with their parents risk death from suffocation if their father or mother rolls on top of them during the night, or if they get trapped in soft bedding or pillows.
The incidence of SIDS has decreased by half since 1992, when the American Academy of Pediatrics first recommended infants be put to sleep on their backs, but pediatricians aren't sure why. One hypothesis is that an infant sleeping on its stomach with its face close to the sheets keeps breathing the same air. Another is that an infant sleeping on its stomach can suffocate if the mattress is too soft and yielding. A third theory is that if a baby sleeps face down on the mattress, microbes from the mattress may interfere with the baby's breathing.
Jack Kelly: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1476.