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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Despite repeated warnings from experts in recent years, an overwhelming majority of parents are still putting their babies to sleep with bedding that could prove fatal.
That’s according to a new study out of Penn State University, which revealed a whopping 91 percent of infant cribs contain bumpers, sleep positioners, stuffed animals, loose blankets and other items that pose significant danger.
The study — published this week in the journal Pediatrics — also revealed that 14 percent of parent participants placed their babies on their sides or stomachs instead of on their backs. This number was particularly surprising to researchers, considering the American Academy of Pediatrics first recommended back sleeping in 1992.
"Parents don't think it's going to happen to them,” study author and Penn State’s chief of general pediatrics, Dr. Ian M. Paul, told Today.
Unsafe sleeping environments increase the risk of suffocation — the most common cause of death in babies under the age of 1. Accidental suffocation and strangulation claim the lives of 3,500 babies each year, according to the U.S. Department of Health.
For the study, Paul and his team were granted permission to set up video cameras in the nurseries of more than 160 homes. They recorded the infants three separate times over the course of the first year — once at 1 month, then at 3 months and again at 6 months.
Watching the video back, researchers noted what items were in the crib at the same time as the baby, as well as how the baby was placed into the bed.
They found that up to a fifth of the infants were placed on a potentially dangerous surface, up to 33 percent were positioned on their bellies or sides and nearly 93 percent slept with items that could lead to suffocation.
The study involved a high percentage of educated mothers, something that alerted researchers to a need for more specific instruction.
“This is a group of people you’d assume have access to resources and knowledge and are still not following the advice,” Elizabeth Murray, a pediatrician at Golisano Children’s Hospital at the University of Rochester, told USA Today.
The ideal sleep environment for an infant is a bed with just the baby and their clothing — absolutely nothing else, Paul said.
“Perhaps we have to make it even simpler,” Paul told USA Today. “We need to be extremely clear and unambiguous in our advice and we need to make sure we model safe sleep environment when babies are in the hospital.”
Paul also issued a reminder that infants tend to move on their own during their sleep, so even if you put your child on his or her back, it’s important to keep in mind that they could knock over a pillow, stuffed animal or blanket nearby.