Soft bedding blamed for most sleep-related infant deaths

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- Between 2011 and 2014, a new study says almost 70 percent of babies who died from sleep-related suffocation died due to soft bedding.

A physician at the University of Virginia Health System conducted the study, underscoring the message physicians have been telling new parents, which says babies should sleep only in cribs or bassinets that are free of blankets, toys and other potential hazards.

According to a release, unintentional suffocation is the number one cause of injury death in babies under one year of age in the United States, with more than 80 percent of all such cases occurring in bed.

The study found soft bedding is responsible for most of these sleep-related deaths, causing about 69 percent of them.

The second most common cause, at 19 percent, is overlay by another person, which can happen in co-sleeping situations when the baby is in bed with a parent or a sibling.

The third most common cause of injury death for an infant is called wedging, which happens when a baby becomes trapped between two objects, such as a mattress and a wall.

"These results are very significant, because these deaths, clearly due to suffocation, were all preventable," said Fern Hauck, MD. "It is also important to note that the causes of suffocation differed by infant age. So, overlaying is a bigger program for the youngest infants, soft bedding affects infants most commonly under four months, and wedging more a program when infants are older and can move around in bed."

During the period reviewed, researchers found sleep-related suffocation and strangulation was responsible for 14 percent of all sudden and unexpected infant deaths.

Death by soft bedding was most likely to occur in an adult bed while the baby was on its back, with the cause being a blanket that was on the bed.

In cases of babies dying due to overlay, it was most often the mother who overlaid the infant.

And babies were most likely to become trapped between the mattress and a wall in wedging incidents.

"Keeping infants safe is a priority for parents, and these types of suffocation deaths can be prevented by following the American Academy of Pediatrics safe sleep guidelines," said Hauck. "These include placing infants to sleep in a safety-approved bassinet or crib in the caregivers' room, not placing infants along or with others on adult beds to sleep, keeping all soft objects out of the infant's sleep area, including blankets and pillows [wearable blankets are preferred over loose blankets], and placing infants on their back to sleep."

The study reviews more than 1,800 infant deaths that were classified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as suffocation on the Sudden Unexpected Infant Death Case Registry.

The findings have been published in the scientific journal Pediatrics.