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News From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
February 6, 2013

Suffocation Deaths Associated With Use of Infant Sleep Positioners—United States, 1997-2011

JAMA. 2013;309(5):432-434. doi:10.1001/jama.2012.157080

MMWR. 2012;46:933-937.

1 table omitted. Available at http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/PDF/wk/mm6146.pdf.

Unintentional suffocation is the leading cause of injury death among children aged <1 year in the United States, accounting for nearly 1,000 infant deaths annually. Since 1984, an estimated fourfold increase has been observed in accidental suffocation and strangulation in bed, with many of these deaths linked to unsafe sleep environments.1,2 Infant sleep positioners (ISPs) are devices intended to keep an infant in a specific position while sleeping, yet ISPs have been reported to have been present in the sleep environment in some cases of unintentional infant suffocation (Figure).3,4 Some specific ISPs have been cleared by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the management of gastroesophageal reflux or plagiocephaly (asymmetry of the skull).5 However, many unapproved ISPs have been marketed to the general public with claims of preventing sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), improving health, and enhancing sleep comfort.5 To characterize infant deaths associated with ISPs, FDA, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), and CDC examined information reported to CPSC about 13 infant deaths in the past 13 years associated with the use of ISPs. In this case series, all infants but one were aged ≤3 months, and most were placed on their sides to sleep. Many were found prone (i.e., lying on their abdomens). Accompanying medical issues included prematurity and intercurrent respiratory illnesses. When providing guidance for parents of newborns, health-care providers need to emphasize the importance of placing infants to sleep on their backs in a safe sleep environment. This includes reminders about the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommendations against side sleep position, ISPs and pillows, comforters, and other soft bedding.