The goal of this qualitative study was to examine factors influencing decisions by black parents regarding use of soft bedding and sleep surfaces for their infants.


We conducted focus groups and individual interviews with black mothers of lower and higher socioeconomic status (SES). Mothers were asked about many infant care practices, including sleep surface and bedding.


Eighty-three mothers were interviewed, 73 (47 lower and 26 higher SES) in focus groups and 10 (7 lower and 3 higher SES) in individual interviews. The primary reason for using soft surfaces was infant comfort. Parents perceived that infants were uncomfortable if the surface was not soft. Many parents also interpreted “firm sleep surface” to mean taut; they were comfortable with and believed that they were following recommendations for a firm sleep surface when they placed pillows/blankets on the mattress as long as a sheet was pulled tautly over the pillows/blankets. The primary reasons for using soft bedding (including bumper pads) were comfort, safety, and aesthetics. In addition to using bedding to soften sleep surfaces, bedding was used to prevent infant rollover and falls, particularly for infants sleeping on a bed or sofa. Some parents used soft bedding to create an attractive space for the infant.


Many black parents believe that soft bedding will keep their infant safe and comfortable. There is much misunderstanding about the meaning of a “firm” sleep surface. Additional educational messages apparently are needed to change parental perceptions and practices.

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