Objectives. To identify the risk factors for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) following a national campaign to prevent SIDS.
Methods. For 2 years (October 1, 1991 through September 30, 1993) data were collected by community child health nurses on all infants born in New Zealand at initial contact and at 2 months.
Results. There were 232 SIDS cases in the postneonatal age group (2.0/1000 live births) and these were compared with 1200 randomly selected control subjects. Information was available for 127 cases (54.7%) and 922 (76.8%) of controls.
The previously identified modifiable risk factors were examined. The prevalence of prone sleeping position of the infant was very low (0.7% at initial contact and 3.0% at 2 months), but was still associated with an increased risk of SIDS. In addition, the side sleeping position was also found to have an increased risk of SIDS compared with the supine sleeping position (at 2 months: adjusted odds ratio (OR) = 6.57; 95% confidence interval (CI) = 1.71, 25.23). Maternal smoking was found to be the major risk factor for SIDS. Bed sharing was also associated with an increased risk of SIDS. There was an interaction between maternal smoking and bed sharing on the risk of SIDS. Compared with infants not exposed to either bed sharing or maternal smoking, the adjusted OR for infants of mothers who smoked was 5.01 (95% CI = 2.01, 12.46) for bed sharing at the initial contact and 5.02 (95% CI = 1.05, 24.05) for bed sharing at 2 months. In this study breastfeeding was not associated with a statistically significant reduction in the risk of SIDS.
The other risk factors for SIDS identified were: unmarried mother, leaving school at a younger age, young mother, greater number of previous pregnancies, late attendance for antenatal care, smoking in pregnancy, male infant, Maori ethnicity, low birth weight, and shorter gestation.
Conclusions. After adjustment for potential confounders, prone and side sleeping positions, maternal smoking, and the joint exposure to bed sharing and maternal smoking were associated with statistically significant increased risk of SIDS. A change from the side to the supine sleeping position could result in a substantial reduction in SIDS. Maternal smoking is common in New Zealand and with the reduction in the prevalence of prone sleeping position is now the major risk factor in this country. However, smoking behavior has been difficult to change. Bed sharing is also a major factor but appears only to be a risk to infants of mothers who smoke. Addressing bed sharing among mothers who smoke could reduce SIDS by at least one third. Breastfeeding did not appear to offer a statistically significant reduction in SIDS risk after adjustment of potential confounders, but as breastfeeding rates are comparatively good in New Zealand, this result should be interpreted with caution as the power of this study to detect a benefit is small.