Promoting Safe Sleep Practices

By Dr. Joseph Iser Chief Health Officer, SNHD Member Since 2013

By Dr. Joseph Iser
Chief Health Officer, SNHD
Member Since 2013

By early November of 2018, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department had investigated the sleep-related deaths of 23 infants in Clark County. Five of these deaths occurred in the month of October, and most of these tragedies involved co-sleeping with a parent.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports there are approximately 3,500 sleep-related deaths among infants in the United States each year. While this number has declined dramatically from the 1990s when recommendations to place babies on their back to sleep were introduced, many women still follow unsafe sleep practices. According to the CDC, 22 percent of mothers reported not placing their baby on his or her back to sleep, 39 percent of mothers reported using soft bedding when placing babies to sleep, and 61 percent reported sharing their bed at some time with their infant.

Safe sleep awareness is a priority for the Southern Nevada Health District and its Maternal-Child Health programs. It has ongoing partnerships with community organizations, along with the Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health and Washoe County Health District to educate parents and caregivers on safe sleep practices that are proven to reduce infant deaths. Forty-five percent of caregivers report they did not receive the correct advice on safe sleep practices. Health care providers can do their part by keeping up-to-date on the latest recommendations provided by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and by advising caregivers about the recommendations. Health care practitioners can ask their patients about how they place their babies to sleep, any challenges they may have following the recommendations, and work with them to find solutions.

There are tips to share with parents and caregivers to help ensure babies sleep safely:

  • Infants up to 1 year of age should be placed on their backs to sleep (naps and nighttime).

  • Use a firm sleep surface, such as an approved crib or bassinet, with a tight-fitting sheet.

  • Keep soft bedding, blankets, pillows, bumper pads, and soft toys out of the baby’s sleep area.

  • Room share, but do not bed share with babies. Room-sharing decreases the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) by as much as 50 percent.

  • Do not smoke during pregnancy, and do not smoke or allow smoking around your baby.

  • Do not drink alcohol or use illegal drugs during pregnancy.

  • Breastfeed your baby. Babies who are breastfed have a lower risk of SIDS.

  • Do not cover your baby’s head or allow your baby to get too hot.

  • Offer your baby a pacifier at nap time and bedtime. Wait until breastfeeding is going well before offering a pacifier.

  • Do not use commercial devices, including monitors, wedges, or positioners that are marketed to reduce the risk of SIDS.

  • Visit your baby’s doctor for regular checkups. Your child will receive important immunizations to help prevent disease.

  • Do supervised tummy time with your baby to facilitate healthy development.

The exact cause of SIDS isn’t known. However, research demonstrates the risk of SIDS and other sleep-related infant deaths can be reduced when parents and caregivers implement safer sleep and health-related practices.

Approaching this topic with parents can be sensitive. It is recommended that health care providers have an open and nonjudgmental conversation with families about their sleep practices. Many parents have deeply personal ideas about the best way to sleep with their child, and it is important to share the information and risks involved without scaring them or driving them away.

The Health District works with its partners to create awareness of this topic and has resources on its website at http://www.southernnevadahealthdistrict.org/cdrt/infants.php. Additional information can be found on the American Academy of Pediatrics website at https://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/Pages/American-Academy-of-Pediatrics-Announces-New-Safe-Sleep-Recommendations-to-Protect-Against-SIDS.aspx. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also provides safe sleep information and information on SIDS at https://www.cdc.gov/sids/Parents-Caregivers.htm.