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Doctor's Orders Influence Baby's Sleep Position

'Back to Sleep' advice most effective when it comes from physician, study finds

THURSDAY, Dec. 17 (HealthDay News) -- A pediatrician's advice has the most influence in convincing parents to place infants on their backs to go to sleep in order to prevent sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS, researchers have found.

Since the U.S. government launched the "Back to Sleep" campaign in 1994, the number of infants placed on their backs at sleep time has increased from 25 percent to 70 percent, and the rate of SIDS has dropped by more than 50 percent, according to background information in a news release from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.

"We know that placing infants on their backs to sleep is by far the single most effective way to reduce the risk of SIDS, but the number of deaths has leveled off in recent years," study author Dr. George Lister, chairman of pediatrics at the university, said in the news release. "We wanted to know why in order to develop practical advice that caregivers will follow."

Analyzing data from the National Infant Sleep Position Study from 1993 to 2007, Lister and his research colleagues found that the number of babies placed on their backs to sleep increased substantially between 1993 and 2001, but the number has since stabilized. They also found that between 2003 and 2007, 54 percent of caregivers said a physician had told them to place infants only on their backs to sleep.

The researchers pinpointed three reasons that caregivers might or might not follow the recommendation to place infants on their backs to sleep:

  • Concern for the infant's comfort
  • Fear that the infant might choke
  • Whether they'd been advised by a physician to always place an infant on his or her back to sleep

Families who followed the Back to Sleep program's recommendation were unlikely to say they were concerned about a baby choking or being uncomfortable while sleeping on his or her back. But these families were more likely to have been told by a physician that this was the best way to reduce the risk of SIDS.

"Our findings suggest that a physician's counsel makes a substantial difference when a caregiver is determining whether to place an infant to sleep on its tummy, side or back," Lister said.

This also indicates that physicians can play an important role in further reducing the rate of SIDS, he said.

"Physicians need to be proactive by consistently telling parents and caregivers that infants must always be placed on their backs and on a firm mattress to sleep, even for naps," Lister added. "They must also continue to remind caregivers to remove extra blankets, pillows and stuffed animals from the crib during sleep time."

The study was published in the December issue of the journal Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

More information

The Nemours Foundation has more about SIDS.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, news release, Dec. 11, 2009

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