In 1992, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that infants not be placed to sleep on their stomachs. (The AAP revised this recommendation in 1996, to say that placement on the back is the preferred sleeping position for all healthy infants.) These recommendations were based on studies of infants from New Zealand, Australia, and the United Kingdom. However, few studies had been conducted specifically on whether stomach sleeping increased U.S. infants' risk for SIDS. The Chicago Infant Mortality Study sought to determine if the stomach sleeping position contributed to SIDS in an urban, African American population at high risk for the condition. The study authors described the 1991 Chicago SIDS rate as "alarmingly high" -- 2.6 SIDS deaths per 1000 live births, as compared to the overall U.S. rate of 1.3.
The current study is part of a body of research sponsored by the NICHD on infant sleep practices and the causes of SIDS. This large body of research, together with compelling scientific evidence from around the world, confirmed the safety and effectiveness of back sleeping. Based on this evidence, the NICHD formed a coalition of national organizations to launch a national public awareness campaign called Back to Sleep in 1994. Along with NICHD, the coalition consisted of the Health Resources and Services Administration, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Association of SIDS and Infant Mortality Programs (formerly the Association of SIDS Program Professionals), and the SIDS Alliance. At that time, the SIDS rates for African Americans were double those for Caucasians. Since the start of the NICHD-led campaign in 1994, the SIDS rates for both groups have declined by about 50 percent, but a significant disparity still remains. To help eliminate this disparity, the NICHD joined with the non-profit National Black Child Development Institute in a program to reduce SIDS among African American infants in Chicago and around the country. The Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, the Women of the NAACP, and the Coalition of 100 Black Women are among the many organizations that have joined in this effort.