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More Than Half of Chicago Infants Potentially Unsafe While Sleeping

Several Ways to Keep Babies Safe in Their Sleeping Spots

January 25, 2022

Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago has found that a majority of Chicago parents of infants do not follow safe sleeping practices for their babies. The latest survey from the hospital’s VOICES of Child Health in Chicago brings cause for worry because these practices are putting a high number of babies at risk.

Sudden Unexplained Infant Death (SUID) occurs in infants less than 1 year old in their sleep areas. The most recent data indicate that about 2 out of every 5 infant deaths in the U.S. are classified as SUID, despite broad prevention efforts over the last 2 decades. About 3,500 infants die every year in this country from SUID, which is an average of 9 babies every day.

Of concern, 58 percent of Chicago parents in the survey reported that they had placed their infants in sleeping situations that are known to be unsafe, based on cases of SUID in the U.S. These included practices such as bringing babies in parents’ bed to sleep, putting babies to sleep on their side or stomach rather than their back, or letting babies under age 1 year old sleep with objects such as loose blankets, pillows, or stuffed animals or toys.

“Infant deaths are a tragedy, and we need common-sense prevention to help babies have safe spaces to breathe while they sleep. The good news is that parents can help keep their sleeping babies safe by following a few guidelines that are easy to remember,” says Matthew M. Davis, MD, MAPP, Chair of the Department of Medicine at Lurie Children’s, Executive Vice-President and Chief Community Health Transformation Officer at the Patrick M. Magoon Institute for Healthy Communities at Lurie Children’s and Chair of Pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

The VOICES survey points to where education, support and prevention may be especially helpful. Latinx parents were the most likely to have their infant in at least one unsafe sleeping situation (67 percent), followed by Black parents (65 percent), Asian/other race parents (56 percent), and White parents (46 percent). Additionally, parents with a high school education or below, and parents living below the federal poverty level ($26,500 annually for a family of four), were most likely to have their infant sleeping in circumstances that could be unsafe.

Getting life-saving information about safe infant sleep to parents and families is essential. Survey respondents said they get their information most frequently from pediatricians or nurses (70 percent), family (58 percent), social media/blogs/websites (30 percent), books or pamphlets (27 percent), friends or neighbors (22 percent), or the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, commonly known as WIC (13 percent).

“Our results show that clinicians are a critical source of information for parents and caregivers about safe sleep practices for their infant, such as encouraging putting baby to sleep on their back,” says Michelle L. Macy, MS, MD, Director of the Mary Ann & J. Milburn Smith Child Health Outcomes, Research and Evaluation Center in the Stanley Manne Children’s Research Institute at Lurie Children’s, and Associate Professor of Pediatrics in Emergency Medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

The Safe to Sleep guidelines from the National Institutes of Health offers these guidelines for babies to sleep safely:

  • Place baby on their back
  • Place baby alone, on a firm, flat surface
  • Use only a fitted sheet, with no other bedding
  • Do not put toys, crib bumpers, stuffed animals or other soft objects in the sleep space
  • Consider giving baby a pacifier to sleep
  • Avoid overheating or overbundling baby
  • Make sure baby receives health care regularly
  • Do not smoke during pregnancy or allow smokers near baby
  • Breastfeed if possible
  • Share your room, but not your bed, with baby until at least 6 months

The Injury Prevention and Research Center (IPRC) at Lurie Children’s collaborates with community, governmental, and hospital partners to distribute cribs and fitted sheets to Chicago parents who qualify. IPRC also has trained over 60 sleep ambassadors on Chicago’s south and west sides and at federally qualified health centers to provide infant safe sleep education and distribute safe sleep kits to new and expectant parents.

The Fussy Baby Network, operated by the Erikson Institute, is a clinical program that serves parents and families who are struggling with their baby’s crying, sleeping, feeding, or temperament during the first year of life. It offers a “warmline” (888.431.2229) to call in with questions and also offers in-person care with infant specialists.

The VOICES survey included 692 parents from all of the city’s 77 neighborhoods. Parents had a child between 0-5 years old and responded to questions about how their youngest child slept in the first 12 months of their life. Data was collected from May to July 2021.

Population-focused child health research at Lurie Children’s is conducted through the Mary Ann & J. Milburn Smith Child Health Outcomes, Research, and Evaluation Center at the Stanley Manne Children’s Research Institute. The Manne Research Institute is focused on improving child health, transforming pediatric medicine and ensuring healthier futures through the relentless pursuit of new knowledge. Lurie Children’s is ranked as one of the nation’s top children’s hospitals in U.S. News & World Report. It is the pediatric training site for Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Last year, the hospital served more than 223,000 children from all 50 states, Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico, and 37 countries.