Federal and private agencies are spearheading a "Back to Sleep" campaign urging parents to place their babies on their backs or sides when they sleep to help lower the risk of sudden infant death syndrome.
At a press conference Tuesday, the Department of Health and Human Services and other organizations kicked off a $250,000 "Back to Sleep" campaign to educate parents about new findings from studies conducted in Australia, New Zealand, Norway and the United Kingdom. Most of the countries advocating back or side sleeping for infants had reduced their SIDS rate by 50 percent.SIDS takes the lives of 6,000 infants a year in the United States. Despite 30 years of research, experts have been unable to pinpoint its exact cause.
Statistics show that 43 percent of American infants still sleep on their stomachs.
"The simple act of putting a baby to sleep on its back or side provides us with the most promising intervention we have ever had to reduce the number of babies who die of SIDS in the U.S.," Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders said.
A 1993 study by the Consumer Product Safety Commission showed that in 30 percent of U.S. SIDS cases, the babies died face down in their bedding.
That was the case with Katie and Steve Sculley, a Virginia couple whose 31/2-month-old girl died of SIDS in February.
"On that day she was on her stomach, and unfortunately, she never woke up," Katie Sculley said Tuesday.
"As parents, we tried to do everything right," her husband said. "My wife never smoked, she didn't drink. We tried to give our baby the best environment possible to make sure that she would be healthy. . . . You never think it's going to happen to you."
Medical experts point out that there is no evidence that sleeping on the back causes choking. However, Dr. John Kattwinkel of the American Academy of Pediatrics stressed the importance that only healthy babies should be put on their backs. Unhealthy babies that are born with a birth defect, prone to spitting up, or suffering from another ailment may be better off on their stomachs, he said, adding that parents should consult their health-care providers.
For more information on SIDS and the "Back to Sleep" campaign, call 1-800-505-CRIB.