Despite Safe Sleeping Recommendations, Infant Suffocations Continue To Rise Interview with:
Guoqing Hu, PhD
Department of Epidemiology and Health Statistics
Xiangya School of Public Health
Central South University
Changsha, Hunan, China
   On behalf of the authors What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: We’ve known for some time that suffocation is a leading cause of death for American infants – in fact, it is the cause of over 3/4 of the injury deaths to babies under 12 months of age. We’ve also known that there are strategies, such as “safe sleeping”, that can greatly reduce the risk of a baby suffocating to death.

The surprise in our study is that the suffocation rate for infants under 12 months of age appears to be increasing in the United States over the past 15 years. More babies are dying from suffocation today than in the 1990s, and that is a significant public health concern. Think about the implications of each one of those deaths to the infant’s parents and loved ones. There are few things more devastating than losing a baby to an unintentional, or “accidental” death. There are ways we can prevent unintentional suffocations, and we need to work together to inform parents and ensure babies are kept safe to reduce those deaths, especially as rates in the US appear to be increasing. What should readers take away from your report? What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work? 

Response: The rate of infant suffocations in the United States is currently increasing. Unfortunately, our data do not really explain the cause for our finding. We have shown a trend in the data, but we can’t explain it. One possible explanation may be the way cases are coded – so simply a matter of “counting” as SIDS versus suffocation. But other possible explanations exist. It may be that parents are not following “safe sleep” recommendations to place infants in beds without stuffed animals, soft blankets, pillows, and other items that could cause suffocation. It may also be that we have dangerous items on the market and in our homes, and they need to be removed. We hope future research will investigate possible mechanisms for our findings. Is there anything else you would like to add? 

Response: Our results have implications for suffocation prevention. The American Academy of Pediatrics offers excellent advice. They recommend babies sleep on their back on a firm surface with tight-fitting sheets. Soft bedding, blankets, pillows, and toys like stuffed animals should be avoided. A summary is available at:
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Gao Y, Schwebel DC, Hu G. Infant Mortality Due to Unintentional Suffocation Among Infants Younger Than 1 Year in the United States, 1999-2015. JAMA Pediatr. Published online February 19, 2018. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2017.4887

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