Think your baby is sleeping in the safest environment possible? You may want to take another look. Though fewer parents are using bumpers, pillows, and blankets these days, more than half of babies in the U.S. still fall asleep with such potentially hazardous bedding, a new study has found. This despite the recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics that babies sleep on their backs in a crib free of loose bedding or soft objects, which can increase their risk of suffocation or sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
The eye-opening study, which is online now and will be published in the January 2015 issue of Pediatrics, examined infant bedding use from 1993 to 2010, using data from the National Infant Sleep Position study. Researchers discovered that between 1993-95, infant bedding use had reached nearly 86 percent, although that number steadily dropped to 55 percent between 2008-10. Progress, yes, but that means well over half of babies are still snuggling up with potentially dangerous bedfellows every night.
Interestingly, researchers were able to pinpoint some scenarios where soft bedding use is most prevalent. Far and away, it was most common among teen moms—more than 80 percent reportedly put the soft stuff in the crib. But the study also found a link between use of bedding and mothers who were younger in general, a minority, or not college educated. (The lowest rate of bedding use, some 55 percent, occured with infants who were born at term.) Where your baby sleeps could also be a factor. According to the study, babies are more likely to be around loose bedding when they co-sleep in an adult's bed, are put down to sleep on their sides, or share a bed.
While the findings are disturbing, I can't say I'm too surprised by them. Even those of us who follow the AAP's sleep safety guidelines to the letter may second-guess ourselves every now and then. In fact, even though I knew otherwise, I remember placing my son into the empty crib for the first time and feeling like there should be something else in there with him. A blanket for warmth, a toy for entertainment. A bare-bones crib just looked wrong for some reason. And I know I'm not the only one. My good friend who just had a baby wondered the exact same thing, even though her pediatrician had just spent the better part of their last visit reminding her to keep the crib clear of everything but a fitted sheet.
As alarming as studies like this one can be, I'm grateful for them. After all, they're a good reminder to all parents that although our home is flooded with snuggly blankets and squishy toys right now, that doesn't mean our baby's crib should be.
Tell us: What do you think about the study's findings—are you surprised?
Baby Sleep Safety: Reduce the Risk of SIDS
Image of sleeping baby in a crib courtesy of Shutterstock