FRIDAY, April 2, 2010 (HealthDay News) -- Black infants are 12 times more likely to die from sleep-related causes than infants in any other ethnic group, a new study shows.
Overall in the state of Illinois, where the research was conducted, black infants are twice as likely to die from sleep-related causes.
Researchers in the Child Health Data Lab at Children's Memorial Research Center in Chicago analyzed Illinois data on infant deaths due to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), unintentional suffocation in bed, and undetermined causes.
The actual cause of death couldn't be pinpointed in many of these cases but most of the deaths occurred when an infant was in an "unsafe sleep situation." The researchers found that 56.7 percent of the infant deaths occurred while the infant was sharing a bed with an adult and 30 percent occurred when the infant was sleeping alone in an unsafe location, such as on a couch or pillow on a floor, instead of in a crib or bassinet.
Only 7.5 percent of the infants were found in safe sleep circumstances -- lying on his or her back in a crib or bassinet.
Across the United States, black infants have a higher death rate than white infants, according to Jenifer Cartland, director of research at the Child Health Data Lab.
"In Cook County, sleep-related death is responsible for 20 percent of all the African-American infant mortality, but it might be prevented by assuring that all infants have a safe place to sleep and that parents are well-educated about safe sleep practices," she said in a Children's Memorial Research Center news release.
"Many organizations are now coming together to increase safe sleep awareness. We need to get babies alone in their cribs and secure more funding for intervention programs, such as making sure all parents have access to safety-approved, low-cost cribs and bassinets and increasing parents' knowledge about safe sleep," Cartland said.
Infants should be put to sleep on their backs in a safety-approved crib (or bassinet for younger children) with a firm mattress, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. The crib or bassinet should not have any toys or other items that could cover an infant's face.
The U.S. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development offers safe sleep tips for infants.