Objective. To evaluate the current knowledge on the relationship between infant sleep position and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), and to determine how the information can be used to guide further activities in the United States.

Methods. Data from international vital statistics, epidemiologic studies of SIDS risk factors, and studies of outcomes of public health interventions that advocated nonprone sleeping to reduce the risk for SIDS were discussed at a meeting held by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) with cosponsorship from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), and the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) on January 13, and 14, 1994.

Results. Trends in postneonatal mortality and SIDS rates from 1980 through 1992 were evaluated for Australia, Britain, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and the United States. All of the countries that experienced a rapid decline in prone sleeping also had reductions of approximately 50% in their SIDS rates. Postneonatal mortality rates dropped as well, with the reduction in SIDS being the primary contributor to the reported declines. The major behavioral change in all targeted populations was in sleep position. No significant changes were observed in the proportion of parents who smoked cigarettes, or in breast-feeding. Preliminary data from population-based studies showed there were no reported adverse outcomes associated with a change to side or back sleep position, such as an increase in deaths due to aspiration or in apparent life-threatening events.

Conclusion. The overwhelming opinion of the assembled experts was that the evidence justified greater effort to reach parents with the American Academy of Pediatrics' recommendation that healthy infants, when being put down to sleep, be positioned on their side or back.

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