Infant Sleeping Deaths Due to Sofas | Children's Health Blog

Date: 10/30/2014    Written by: Beth Levine

Sofa Dangers for Infants

Infant Sleeping Deaths Due to Sofas | Children's Health Blog

Life with a baby is wonderful and exciting, but it isn't a piece of cake. Most babies don't sleep through the night for months, and they need constant care throughout the day. If you are waking up two or three times a night, it is easy to just nod off wherever you may be while holding your baby. But no matter how mentally and physically exhausted you are, new research suggests that the one place in your home you cannot afford to fall asleep or leave your infant unattended is your sofa.

The study, which took place at Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri, found that sleeping on a sofa is potentially deadly for very young babies.1 The scientists analyzed the circumstances surrounding more than 7,900 sleeping deaths of infants that occurred in 24 states during an eight-year period. Approximately 1,000 of these fatalities, or 12 percent, happened when the baby was asleep on a sofa. In nearly three-quarters of those cases, the child was three months old or younger.

The researchers discovered that either strangulation or suffocation was almost twice as common in the babies who died while sleeping on a sofa as compared to those who died sleeping in a crib, adult bed, or another location. The breakdown of causes of mortality among the sofa sleepers was 40 percent from suffocation or strangulation; for 36 percent, the cause could not be established; and in 24 percent, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) was responsible. It is interesting that they distinguished those with no explainable cause from SIDS, as SIDS is defined as an unexpected sudden death in a young child with no apparent cause.

One important factor noted was that the infants who perished on a sofa were more than six times more likely to be sleeping in a new or unusual sleeping spot versus those who had been in a crib or bed. Additionally, the infants sleeping on sofas were roughly twice as likely to have someone sleeping with them than were the infants in other places. Taken together, those things could suggest that a parent was awakened by the infant during the night, sat on the sofa to feed or calm the baby, and both parent and child fell back to sleep there. As any of us who have been in that situation can attest, it is tough to keep your eyes open during a 3 a.m. feeding, and starting to doze back off is common.

But if the baby, too young to roll or reposition himself or herself, becomes wedged into the cushions or pillows on the sofa, it is easy to see how suffocation or even strangulation could occur. Also, sofa cushions are softer, more plush than a crib mattress and thus more likely to surround the face of a child sleeping face down. Add to that the possibility of an adult rolling onto the infant or covering the infant's face inadvertently while sleeping and the possible hazards become more and more apparent. That's why the National Institutes of Health Safe to Sleep recommendation is for babies to always sleep alone, which refers not only to a lack of human company, but also to sleep without any pillows, soft bedding, or stuffed animals that could impede breathing.

The Safe to Sleep campaign was begun 20 years ago and has helped reduce rates of SIDS by nearly 50 percent in the U.S.2 However, SIDS is still the number one cause of mortality in babies between one month and one year old. If your little one is not yet sleeping through the night and you don't want to chance waking your spouse, don't let yourself get too cozy on the sofa during overnight duty. Even if you feel somewhat alert when you first sit down, you may very well begin drifting off once you've been sitting for a few minutes. Try walking with the baby, which can be very soothing to a crying infant anyway, or at least sit in a firm chair such as a wooden rocker in which you are much less likely to feel too comfortable and is not likely to smother a child if you both fall asleep.

Another risk not worth taking is use of alcohol, drugs, or smoking before bed if you are responsible for the care of a baby. A large 2013 study at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in the United Kingdom found a substantially higher risk of infant death if a parent smoked, drank, or did drugs before going to sleep with their baby.3 If you really need a night out and alcohol is on your agenda, plan ahead and ask grandma and grandpa to take the baby for the night for safety's sake.

  • 1. Haelle, Tara. "Sleeping on Sofa Can Be Deadly for Babies, Study Finds." Health Day. 13 October 2014. Accessed 22 October 2014.
  • 2. Trachtenberg, Felicia L.; et al. "Risk Factor Changes for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome After Initiation of Back-to-Sleep Campaign." Pediatrics. 26 March 2012. Accessed 24 October 2014.
  • 3. Carpenter, Robert; et al. "Bed sharing when parents do not smoke: is there a risk of SIDS? An individual level analysis of five major case-control studies." BMJ Open. 20 May 2013. Accessed 24 October 2014.

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