The percentage of stomach sleeping for the infant's last sleep was similar in all of the SIDS infants -- 58 percent among African Americans, and 55 percent for all other ethnic groups. Among the control group, 43 percent of African Americans were usually placed to sleep on their stomachs, compared to 12 percent for the other groups. Infants placed to sleep on their stomachs were at more than twice the risk for SIDS as were infants sleeping in other positions.
"Our study highlights the need for health care professionals to inform parents of all racial and ethnic backgrounds about the importance of placing their infants to sleep on their backs," said the study's principal investigator, Fern R. Hauck, M.D., M.S., now with the Department of Family Medicine, University of Virginia Health System in Charlottesville.
For the control group, 64 percent of mothers said that a doctor or nurse had advised them after delivery about infant sleeping position. The most common recommendation was that infants be placed to sleep on their sides, consistent with recommendations at that time. The next most common recommendation was that infants be placed to sleep on their stomachs. The study authors theorized that, at the time, many health care professionals feared that infants placed to sleep on their backs might choke on vomit if they happened to spit up during the night. In contrast, only 46 percent of those whose infants had died of SIDS said they had received advice from health care professionals on how to place their infants for sleep. For both the SIDS infants and controls, a greater proportion of African Americans (25 percent) than Caucasians (7 percent) said they had been advised to place their infants to sleep on their stomachs.