Study: Race matters in sudden unexpected infant deaths. Why?

Babies should always sleep alone, on their back and in a safe empty crib with a firm mattress.

A new study looked at 20 years worth of data of infant deaths due to Sudden Unexpected Infant Death, of which Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and Accidental Suffocation and Strangulation in Bed and other unexplained causes are a part.

The study led by Sharyn E. Parks, who is part of the Maternal and Infant Health Branch of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, will be part of the June issue of Pediatrics from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The study divided these deaths, which since 2000 have been stable at 93.4 deaths per 100,000 live births, into race and ethnicity and found a big unexplained gap.

If you look at the year 2013, the most recent year in the study, non-Hispanic whites had a SUID rate of 84.5. Hispanics had a rate of 49.3 and Asian/Pacific Islanders had the lowest rate of 28.3. Yet, American Indians/Alaskan Natives had a rate of 177.6 and non-Hispanic blacks had a rate of 172.4. And that was a good year.

The study did see a decrease in SUID rates from 1995 to 2000, after the introduction of the Back to Sleep ad campaign that stressed that babies should be put to bed on their backs in a crib with nothing but a sheet-covered mattress in it.

When you look at all the years 1995-2013 that the study covered, the rates were 88.3 for non-Hispanic whites, 54.2 for Hispanics, 41.9 for Asian/Pacific Islanders, 188.7 for non-Hispanic blacks and 215.2 for American Indians/Alaskan Natives.

What is going on here? Well, the researchers aren’t sure, but there are two theories that could be working together.

The first is that the Back to Sleep campaign is not reaching non-Hispanic black and American Indian/Alaskan Native families. There are cultural norms at work that have these moms putting baby to sleep on their bellies or sides, or with too much stuff in the crib or in too much clothing.

The other is that there might be a biological component such as a difference in metabolic rates that is causing this.

With any study, more research needs to be done.

Do you know how to put a baby safely to bed?




Author: Nicole Villalpando

Nicole Villalpando writes about families in the Raising Austin blog and the Raising Austin column on Saturdays. She also offers a weekly and monthly family calendar at She tweets at @raisingaustin.

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