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The good news: Rates of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) have plummeted by more than 50 percent since experts started encouraging parents to put babies to sleep on their back. The less good news: New research in the journal Pediatrics suggests that there are other risk factors that likely explain why SIDS hasn't declined more. One of the biggest "others": Bed-sharing. In 1991, 19 percent of parents surveyed co-slept, but by 2008, that number jumped to almost 38 percent. Most of the bed-sharers were sleeping with infants younger than two months old.
Bed-sharing is a touchy subject. On one hand, it's been shown to increase SIDS risk and for this reason, the American Academy of Pediatrics is against the practice. On the other, advocates argue that co-sleeping promotes successful breastfeeding (which reduces SIDS risk) and can be done safely. If you choose to share your bed with your baby, practice these steps for safer sleep:
Never place your baby on her stomach. Back-sleeping is the most effective way to lower the risk fo SIDS. (It's believed that stomach sleeping may narrow your infants airway.)
Keep tabs on the temperature. A warm room and an over-bundled baby can create an unsafe sleeping environment. Running a fan can offer increased protection.
Keep pillows, comforters and stuffed toys away from your baby's sleep area. They all contribute to her chances of suffocation. For this reason, your baby should never be on top of -- or underneath -- a blanket. Not only is it a suffocation risk, blankets also contribute to over-heating. If it's cold, you can keep your baby warm with a zip-up sleep sack.
Consider room sharing instead of bed-sharing. If you want your baby close by (another SIDS-reducer), consider a co-sleeper that attaches to the side of your bed or setting up a bassinet or play yard in your room.
Don't place your baby in between two people. This increases the chance an adult could accidentally roll on the infant. Instead, place your infant between you and a flush-to-mattress mesh guardrail. Or push the mattress firmly against a wall, positioning the baby between you and wall.
Think big. The best way to co-sleep safely is in a queen-size or king-size bed to give everyone enough room, according to cosleeping advocate, pediatrician Dr. Sears.
Don't smoke. If either parent smokes, do not sleep with your baby. Chemicals in secondhand smoke may interfere with the way your baby's brain regulates breathing. Also avoid bed-sharing if either partner is on sedatives, medications or drugs or is intoxicated.
Put your hair up. If you have long hair, tie it back. Excessively long hair can become entangled around an infant's neck, according to the Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory at the University of Notre Dame.
Click here for more ways to prevent SIDS.