Potential for Preventing Infant Death During Sleep May Be Underrealized

May 14, 2005

Sleep-associated deaths are the leading cause of infant death in Arizona-and that state is the source of new information, presented at the 2005 Pediatric Academic Societies Annual Meeting, suggesting that most deaths attributable to SIDS, suffocation, and asphyxiation may be preventable.

Sleep-associated deaths are the leading cause of infant death in Arizona-and that state is the source of new information, presented at the 2005 Pediatric Academic Societies Annual Meeting, suggesting that most deaths attributable to SIDS, suffocation, and asphyxiation may be preventable.

A recent study shows that 72% of Arizona infant sleep-associated deaths may have been prevented. Anu Partap, MD, MPH, and Justin Sales, MD MPH, of Maricopa Medical Center studied the overall problem of infants who died because of unsafe sleep practices. They found that 134 infants died from SIDS or from sleep hazards that resulted in suffocation or asphyxiation. The study focused on 109 complete records of infant deaths; of those, nearly three quarters died from either a high-risk sleep position or a hazard addressed by the AAP's Back to Sleep campaign - meaning that those deaths may have been preventable.

In 1994, the Back to Sleep campaign began educating parents-and clinicians-that the safest sleeping position for an infant is on his or her back. The campaign has been credited with a 50% reduction in the incidence of SIDS. The campaign also advises on the dangers of the infant sleeping environment: quilts, pillows, sharing beds with other children or adults-all arrangements that can lead to asphyxiation or suffocation. These non-SIDS deaths have not been tracked together with SIDS deaths, however, to determine the success of interventions.

Dr. Partap said he believes that "if we just focus on SIDS rates alone, it is easy to underestimate the ongoing problem of infants dying from risks associated with their sleep environment." He applauded the Back To Sleep Campaign for its accomplishments in promoting education for parents and caregivers on safe sleep positions" - but with a caveat: "We can't just focus on one aspect of infant sleep to determine if we are reducing the number of babies dying from potentially preventable causes."