Do parents sleep in the same bed as their child because their parents did it?
What are the cultural factors that influence parents to continue behaviors that may contribute to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)?
Rachel Moon, MD, Associate Chief of the Division of General Pediatrics and Community Health at Children’s National Health System and a leader in SIDS research, is exploring these questions in a study that may help us better understand the difficulty of changing health behaviors, even when parents are aware that these behaviors may increase their baby’s chance of SIDS.
Despite the increasing concerns among academics about bed-sharing among children and parents, Dr. Moon says parents may rely more on whether their family members or friends bed-share, instead of scientific fact, when deciding whether to bed-share with their baby.
SIDS is one of the leading causes of death in babies from 1 month to 1 year of age, and bed-sharing, particularly among infants under 4 months old, is for a major risk factor for SIDS.
The Children’s study will be the first to examine how a parent’s social networks (family members, friends, etc.) influence their decision making, Dr. Moon says. Relatives and friends of parents “are often the most important factor in the decisions that you make when taking care of your baby,” Dr. Moon says.
Besides Dr. Moon, other Children’s researchers include Linda Fu, MD, and Jichuan Wang, PhD, a biostatistician at Children’s. Dr. Benjamin Cornwell, an Associate Professor of Sociology at Cornell University in N.Y. also is involved in the study.
Studies have shown a high variability of bed-sharing, with as many as 25 to 75 percent bed sharing at night, “but actually the numbers are probably much higher,” Dr. Moon says.
In particular, Dr. Moon is focusing on SIDS rates among African-Americans, which are two to three times higher than other groups, she says. Their social networks may contribute largely to that, Dr. Moon says, noting that the issue “is critically important.”
Within the African-American community, parents are “more likely to put babies on their stomachs, more likely to bed-share, all these things they are more likely to do, because their parents, grandparents or others in the family gave the OK,” Dr. Moon says. There may be more “independent thinkers” within the African-American community who will not simply rubber-stamp what a physician advises, she adds. “The whole idea in the last two years has been trying to understand why people make the decisions they do,” Dr. Moon says. African-American and Caucasian families will be included in the study.
Dr. Moon also is co-author of "14 Ways to Protect Your Baby from SIDS," and a study published in the August print edition of Pediatrics, a journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and online July 14. In that study, she and her colleagues analyzed more than 8,000 cases of sleep-related infant deaths in 24 states from 2004-2012. The study found that almost 70 percent of the babies died while sharing a bed and about a third died with an object (like a pillow or a blanket) in their beds. Dr. Moon says the study indicates risk factors differ according to the age of the baby and change even as the child ages and becomes more mobile. An infant’s sleep environment should remain clear of objects such as pillows or toys in the bed, she says.
Dr. Moon is director of Academic Development for the Goldberg Center for Community Pediatric Health and Professor of George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences. She is also Associate Chief of the Division of General Pediatrics and Community Health at Children’s.
Contact: Emily Hartman or Joe Cantlupe at 202-476-4500.