Nearly one-third of infants are placed on stomachs to sleep

For years, health officials have urged parents to place their sleeping infants on their backs to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome, commonly known as SIDS. But new research suggests many parents aren't listening. 

That research says nearly 30 percent of infants are placed face-down on their stomachs. When placed in this position, babies can sometimes not get enough oxygen into their airways and then stop breathing. (ViaFlickr / Lisa Rosario)

About 4,000 infants die every year from SIDS — making it the leading cause of death in babies under the age of 1. The CDC defines SIDS as "the sudden death of an infant less than 1 year of age that cannot be explained after a thorough investigation is conducted."

In 2013, The Washington Post reported on three factors scientists think explain the majority of SIDS cases: "A baby has a defect in an area of the brain that controls breathing and arousal; the baby is at an age when those brains areas are still immature; and the baby is exposed to an external stress that compromises his breathing or oxygen levels, or that causes overheating."

A writer for NBC says parents who allow their infants to sleep on their stomachs do so because they believe their children sleep better and for longer periods of time that way. 

An infant massage therapist told NBC, "I repeatedly tell my clients that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends 'back to sleep' for optimal infant safety, but you don't know how hard it is to tell this to a weeping, sleep-deprived mom."

On a related note, USA Today reports research being presented Saturday at a Pediatric Academy Societies meeting suggests 19 percent of mothers in the U.S. sleep with their babies. 

Researchers concluded the bed-sharing was highest among the Hispanic mothers studied and that infants are nearly three times as likely to die from SIDS if they sleep with someone else. 

But while sharing a bed with an infant may be a taboo in the U.S., it's actually fairly common in other parts of the world. 

According to child advocacy organization, The Natural Child Project, Hong Kong has the lowest number of SIDS occurrences in the world, while Japan has one of the lowest infant mortality rates—bed sharing is very common in both of these countries. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics updated its guidelines about sleeping practices for infants in 2011.

"Have them sleep on their backs, have a firm crib mattress that fits in the crib correctly, limit the number of covers and blankets you have in the crib and avoid smoking around your newborn." (Via America Now)

For mothers who want to sleep near their infants, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends they put a crib in their bedroom. That way the baby still sleeps by itself, but the mother is close enough to hear it throughout the night.

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