Sleep Environment Can Mean Life or Death for Infants

News Archive November 16, 2011

Sleep Environment Can Mean Life or Death for Infants

Pediatrician Comments on Importance of a Safe Sleep Environment for Infants

MAYWOOD, Ill. – Creating a sleep environment for a child is much more than choosing a pretty blanket; it truly can be a life-or-death decision.

“Sleep is extremely important for all of us, but especially for infants. It’s when kids grow. The nervous system gets a chance to rest and assimilate all the new experiences and information the baby has learned throughout the day,” said Lisa Martin, MD, Loyola University Health System pediatrician and associate professor of pediatrics at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine. “Having a comfortable and safe sleep environment for infants can’t be overemphasized.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the leading cause of death for children younger than 1 is still Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Although the number of SIDS deaths has dramatically dropped since the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommended all babies be placed on their backs, other sleep-related deaths including entrapment, suffocation and asphyxia have increased. Encouraged by the success of the Back to Sleep campaign, the AAP expanded its sleep safety guidelines.

“These new guidelines will help enlighten parents about what items and behaviors can lead to infant sleep-related deaths,” Martin said. “Infants, especially young infants, are completely dependent on their caregivers to provide a safe sleep environment since they don’t have the ability to roll away from objects that are restricting their breathing.”

In addition to placing infants on their backs every time they sleep, the AAP recommends that babies be placed on a firm sleep surface and that the crib be free of items such as bumper pads, loose bedding, stuffed animals and pillows.

“There are numerous products out there that are not necessary and could even become deathtraps for a baby. Items like bumper pads and sleep positioners have not been shown to prevent injuries and the concern is that an infant can get trapped and suffocate,” Martin said. “Babies don’t care if they have a boring crib; they do care if it’s safe. The more objects in a sleeping space, the more dangerous it is for a baby.”

To keep kids warm, Martin says a good rule of thumb is one additional layer of baby clothing above what a parent is wearing. For instance, if a parent is wearing two layers, a baby will need three.

The guidelines also recommend parents and infants share a room but not a bed.

“Mattresses that are safe for babies need to be flat and very firm, which can be uncomfortable for adults. Also, we usually have pillows, blankets and sheets that are not safe for infants,” Martin said.

Other AAP recommendations include:

To prevent overheating, don’t cover the head

Infants should have supervised, awake tummy time every day

Parents should not smoke

Pregnant women should receive routine prenatal care

Infants should receive all vaccinations

Breastfeeding is recommended

Offer a pacifier at nap and bedtime

“Pacifiers have been shown to protect against SIDS, but if a mother is planning on breastfeeding, wait to offer it until the baby is 3 or 4 weeks old and make sure breastfeeding habits have been established,” Martin said.

For media inquiries, please contact Evie Polsley at epolsley@lumc.edu or call (708) 216-5313 or (708) 417-5100.

Loyola University Health System (LUHS) is a member of Trinity Health. Based in the western suburbs of Chicago, LUHS is a quaternary care system with a 61-acre main medical center campus, the 36-acre Gottlieb Memorial Hospital campus and more than 30 primary and specialty care facilities in Cook, Will and DuPage counties. The medical center campus is conveniently located in Maywood, 13 miles west of the Chicago Loop and 8 miles east of Oak Brook, Ill. The heart of the medical center campus is a 559-licensed-bed hospital that houses a Level 1 Trauma Center, a Burn Center and the Ronald McDonald® Children's Hospital of Loyola University Medical Center. Also on campus are the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, Loyola Outpatient Center, Center for Heart & Vascular Medicine and Loyola Oral Health Center as well as the LUC Stritch School of Medicine, the LUC Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing and the Loyola Center for Fitness. Loyola's Gottlieb campus in Melrose Park includes the 255-licensed-bed community hospital, the Professional Office Building housing 150 private practice clinics, the Adult Day Care, the Gottlieb Center for Fitness, Loyola Center for Metabolic Surgery and Bariatric Care and the Loyola Cancer Care & Research at the Marjorie G. Weinberg Cancer Center at Melrose Park.
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