A new study by the journal Pediatrics has uncovered a surprising finding about babies who die from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) each year: 20% of SIDS cases occur when the baby is outside the home.
The stat is particularly eye-opening since it goes against the common perception: That SIDS deaths happen at home, typically when the baby is asleep in their crib. But that’s not always so, according to researchers. After poring through 10 years of data from the National Child Fatality Review and Prevention database, study authors found that many cases happen away from home — and it may have something to do with how vigilant parents are about safe sleep practices inside and outside the home.
“Safe sleep is not just about me and my home and what I do,” says Dr. Jeffrey Colvin, a study author and pediatrician at Children’s Mercy Kansas City. Most parents are careful about creating a safe sleep environment at home, Dr. Colvin notes, which means following the ABCs of safe sleep: the infant is always ALONE in his space, on his BACK and in a CRIB.
But, after reviewing nearly 12,000 infant deaths, Dr. Colvin tells Babble that even parents with the best of intentions may have some cognitive dissonance when it comes to putting a baby to sleep on-the-go.
“The infants who died out of home had twice the odds [of] sleeping in a car seat or stroller at the time of death rather than in a crib or bassinet,” says Dr. Colvin. “You really do get these sense that, ‘We were out of the home. We didn’t have our crib or bassinet, so we just let our infant sleep in the stroller that they were in.’”
Another stark finding? Roughly 50% of the SIDS deaths that occurred outside the home were under the supervision of caregivers other than the parents. Some of that may be attributed to generational differences — especially considering the recommendation not long ago was to place babies to sleep on their stomachs.
“For our parents’ generation, they were told the exact opposite of what we now know is the safest thing, which is to put a baby [to sleep] on their back,” says Dr. Colvin. “That can be almost a little confrontational … because they want to do that they truly believe is the safest thing, but they simply don’t have the best data anymore.”
The other significant risk factor for SIDS deaths occurring outside the home was an absence of a proper crib or bassinet altogether. According to researchers, “Caregivers should be educated on the importance of placing infants to sleep supine in cribs or bassinets to protect against sleep-related deaths, both in and out of the home.”
For parents, that should mean going prepared with a back-up crib. “I would never leave the house without diapers or a bottle,” Dr. Colvin says. “We also need to remember that we need a safe place for the baby to sleep — and that essentially means bringing a portable crib.”
The study, titled “Risk Factors for Sleep-Related Infant Deaths in In-Home and Out-of-Home Settings,” was released alongside the American Academy of Pediatrics’ newly updated recommendations for protecting against SIDS. Per the latest recommendations, parents are also advised to share a room — but not a bed — with babies for the first 6 to 12 months, which has been found to reduce the risk of SIDS by 50 percent. Other recommendations include offering a pacifier for sleep, staying up-to-date on vaccinations and ditching commercial devices marketed to reduce the chance of SIDS in lieu of a bare crib.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 3,500 infants die in the United States each year from SIDS.