DON’T TRUST THE TABLOIDS! While this is a good approach for most parts of life, it’s especially true when talking about safe sleep for infants. Unsafe infant sleep practices are rampant in photos from the internet and women’s magazines, according to a study presented at this year’s annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies. Researchers scoured the three most popular stock photo websites and 26 magazines targeting women and new parents, analyzing every picture of sleeping babies that they found. As a pediatrician, I found the results disappointing:
- Co-sleeping was common
- Only 50% showed babies sleeping on their backs
- Only 15% properly displayed a safe sleep environment
If you want to see for yourself, then give it a try. First, review Safe Sleep Guidelines.
Then, search the internet for “stock photos”. Pick one of the popular sites, type in “infant sleeping”, and look at the pictures that pop up. You will quickly see babies sleeping on their stomachs, sleeping in bed between parents, sleeping with mom on a rocking chair, with loose blankets covering their faces, et cetera. As cute as these pictures may be, they all depict unsafe sleep environments.
Surely, I am starting to sound like a curmudgeon and a safe sleep fanatic. You may say, “They are just pictures. Relax already…” But I can’t relax, and here’s why: a two month old girl who was accidently smothered to death between her two parents in bed – a newborn boy with severe brain injury after falling from his dad’s chest off a rocking chair – a six-week-old girl that died of SIDS. These aren’t just stories, these are flesh-and-blood patients that I have cared for in the hospital… and there are many more examples. It does not just happen to “bad parents”, and “being careful” does not work to prevent these terrible accidents.
Even today, sleep-related deaths are still the third-leading cause of infant mortality in America. Many of these deaths are preventable. Unfortunately, all of those cute pictures of sleeping babies may be undermining a decades-long effort by pediatricians to encourage safe sleep. As the study authors concluded, “Messages in the media that are inconsistent with health care messages create confusion and misinformation about infant sleep safety and may lead inadvertently to unsafe practices.” Being informed is the best defense. Tell your friends and family. We do not need any more healthy babies dying in bed.