Infant sleeping position and the sudden infant death syndrome: systematic review of observational studies and historical review of recommendations from 1940 to 2002
Gilbert R, Salanti G, Harden M, and See S (2005) Infant sleeping position and the sudden infant death syndrome: systematic review of observational studies and historical review of recommendations from 1940 to 2002. Int J Epidemiol 34:4 874–87.
Abstract: BACKGROUND: Before the early 1990s, parents were advised to place infants to sleep on their front contrary to evidence from clinical research. METHODS: We systematically reviewed associations between infant sleeping positions and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), explored sources of heterogeneity, and compared findings with published recommendations. RESULTS: By 1970, there was a statistically significantly increased risk of SIDS for front sleeping compared with back (pooled odds ratio (OR) 2.93; 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.15, 7.47), and by 1986, for front compared with other positions (five studies, pooled OR 3.00; 1.69-5.31). The OR for front vs the back position was reduced as the prevalence of the front position in controls increased. The pooled OR for studies conducted before advice changed to avoid front sleeping was 2.95 (95% CI 1.69-5.15), and after was 6.91 (4.63-10.32). Sleeping on the front was recommended in books between 1943 and 1988 based on extrapolation from untested theory. CONCLUSIONS: Advice to put infants to sleep on the front for nearly a half century was contrary to evidence available from 1970 that this was likely to be harmful. Systematic review of preventable risk factors for SIDS from 1970 would have led to earlier recognition of the risks of sleeping on the front and might have prevented over 10 000 infant deaths in the UK and at least 50 000 in Europe, the USA, and Australasia. Attenuation of the observed harm with increased adoption of the front position probably reflects a "healthy adopter" phenomenon in that families at low risk of SIDS were more likely to adhere to prevailing health advice. This phenomenon is likely to be a general problem in the use of observational studies for assessing the safety of health promotion.
Keywords: Sudden infant death, review, meta-analysis
- Interesting metareview on fluctuations over time of the strength of evidence that infants should avoid prone-position sleeping. Prone sleeping was widespread for much of the 20th century due to theoretical arguments supporting it. Advice based on these arguments was influential for almost two decades after strong evidence against prone sleeping became available. After advice finally turned against the behavior now known to be hazardous, the effect of the poor behavior became much stronger in epidemiology studies; the authors argue that this is due to the removal of families that follow health advice and overall have low risk from the front sleeping group.