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OBJECTIVE--To investigate the role of sleeping arrangements as risk factors for the sudden infant death syndrome after a national risk reduction campaign. DESIGN--Two year population based case-control study. Parental interviews were conducted for each infant who died and for four controls matched for age and date of interview. SETTING--Three regions in England with a total population of 17 million people. SUBJECTS--195 babies who died and 780 matched controls. RESULTS--Prone and side sleeping positions both carried increased risks of death compared with supine when adjusted for maternal age, parity, gestation, birth weight, exposure to smoke, and other relevant factors in the sleeping environment (multivariate odds ratio = 9.00 (95% confidence interval 2.84 to 28.47) and 1.84 (1.02 to 3.31), respectively). The higher incidence of side rather than prone sleeping led to a higher population attributable risk (side 18.4%, prone 14.2%). More of the infants who died were found with bed covers over their heads (21.58; 6.21 to 74.99). The use of a dummy had an apparent protective effect (0.38; 0.21 to 0.70). Bed sharing for the whole night was a significant risk factor for infants whose mothers smoked (9.25; 2.31 to 34.02). No protective effect of breast feeding could be identified on multivariate analysis. CONCLUSIONS--This study confirms the importance of certain risk factors for the sudden infant death syndrome and identifies others-for example, covers over the head, side sleeping position-which may be amenable to change by educating and informing parents and health care professionals.