NICHD Winter Alert to Parents of Newborn Infants

Tipper Gore Alerts Parents About Increased SIDS Incidence During Cold Winter Weather

The cold, fall weather is bringing out the heavy clothes and blankets -- and also a warning to parents of infants from Tipper Gore, national spokesperson for the "Back to Sleep" campaign, a public-private initiative to raise awareness that placing babies on their backs to sleep can reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

"Parents of infants need to be aware of the increased incidence of SIDS during the winter season, and take appropriate steps to reduce their baby's risk," said Tipper Gore. "In particular, that means being sure to place babies on their backs to sleep."

SIDS, which strikes nearly 3,000 babies each year, is the sudden, unexplained death of an infant in the first year of life. Recent research has identified almost undetectable defects in SIDS infants in a region of the brain that may control sensing of carbon dioxide, breathing, and arousal during sleep. Researchers believe that the increase in SIDS during the cold winter months may be attributable to the greater risk of infection infants face during the colder months and perhaps to the overbundling and overheating of infants.

Winter SIDS deaths have been declining in the last few years with the increase in parents placing their babies on their backs to sleep, said HHS Secretary Donna E. Shalala. "Still, everyone who cares for infants--from parents to babysitters to child care providers-- need to be reminded about the danger of too many blankets or pillows in the crib."

Mrs. Gore and Secretary Shalala also noted new statistics showing significant progress by the "Back to Sleep" campaign in changing the old belief that babies should sleep on their stomachs to create a new conventional wisdom that placing babies on their backs to sleep can save infant lives. October is Sudden Infant Death Syndrome Awareness Month.

Prior to the start of the public-private "Back to Sleep" campaign by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 1994, nearly 70 percent of babies were stomach sleeping. Today, Mrs. Gore announced that about 21 percent of babies are stomach sleeping. The result has been a 38 percent drop in the SIDS death rate between 1992 and 1996.

"These statistics clearly show the dramatic impact of the 'Back to Sleep' campaign on reducing the incidence of SIDS," said Mrs. Gore. "We must work together to make sure that all parents are placing their babies on their backs to sleep -- and that they tell everyone who cares for their babies to do the same."

While research has shown that back sleeping is the most important step that parents can take to reduce the risk of SIDS, studies suggest that parents should take several additional steps which may help further reduce the risk of SIDS," said Duane Alexander, M.D., director of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), the lead federal agency coordinating the "Back to Sleep" campaign.

Parents should place their baby to sleep on a firm mattress and remove all fluffy pillows or stuffed animals from the crib. Some babies have smothered with these soft materials in the crib.

In addition, babies should be kept warm, but they should not be wrapped in too much clothing or too many blankets. Babies should not be allowed to get overheated, and parents should keep the temperature in their baby's room at a level that feels comfortable to them. Finally, if their baby seems sick, parents should call a doctor or clinic right away.

Other measures parents can take to reduce the risk of SIDS include establishing a smoke-free zone around the baby, because infants exposed to smoke have more colds and other upper respiratory tract infections, as well as an increased risk of SIDS. Early and regular prenatal care provides a healthy start for any baby, and breast feeding is important since breast milk contains antibodies and nutrients to keep a baby healthy.

The "Back to Sleep" campaign is based on the American Academy of Pediatrics' recommendation on infant sleep position. In 1992, after reviewing the available evidence, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that, to reduce the chance of dying from SIDS, healthy babies should be placed on their backs or sides to sleep. In 1996, the AAP revised its recommendation clarifying that placing babies to sleep on their backs provides the greatest protection against SIDS and is the recommended infant sleep position.

The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), part of the National Institutes of Health, launched the "Back to Sleep" campaign in 1994 to amplify the message that back sleeping can reduce the risk of SIDS and save lives. Major partners in the campaign, besides the NICHD, include HHS's Maternal and Child Health Bureau, the AAP, the SIDS Alliance, and the Association of SIDS and Infant Mortality Programs. Tipper Gore became the national spokesperson of the "Back to Sleep" campaign in March 1997.

The NICHD is distributing free "Back to Sleep" publications and other materials on reducing the risk of SIDS. These materials include a brochure for parents available in either English or Spanish, a brochure for health-care professionals, display posters, "Back to Sleep" reminder crib stickers, take-home cards to distribute in hospitals and maternity clinics, and a parent training videotape available in either English or Spanish. To order free materials, call "Back to Sleep" toll-free at 1-800-505-CRIB or write to NICHD/Back to Sleep, 31 Center Drive, Room 2A32, Bethesda, MD 20892-2425. For the latest information on SIDS and the "Back to Sleep" campaign, visit the NICHD web site at

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