Speaking out on safe sleep: evidence-based infant sleep recommendations

Breastfeed Med. 2014 Nov;9(9):417-22. doi: 10.1089/bfm.2014.0113. Epub 2014 Sep 4.


The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued recommendations in 2005 and 2011 to reduce sleep-related infant death, which advise against all bedsharing for sleep. These recommendations overemphasize the risks of bedsharing, and this overemphasis has serious unintended consequences. It may result in increased deaths on sofas as tired parents try to avoid feeding their infants in bed. Current evidence shows that other risks are far more potent, such as smoking, shared sleep on sofas, sleeping next to impaired caregivers, and formula feeding. The emphasis on separate sleep is diverting resources away from addressing these critical risk factors. Recommendations to avoid bedsharing may also interfere with breastfeeding. We examine both the evidence behind the AAP recommendations and the evidence omitted from those recommendations. We conclude that the only evidence-based universal advice to date is that sofas are hazardous places for adults to sleep with infants; that exposure to smoke, both prenatal and postnatal, increases the risk of death; and that sleeping next to an impaired caregiver increases the risk of death. No sleep environment is completely safe. Public health efforts must address the reality that tired parents must feed their infants at night somewhere and that sofas are highly risky places for parents to fall asleep with their infants, especially if parents are smokers or under the influence of alcohol or drugs. All messaging must be crafted and reevaluated to avoid unintended negative consequences, including impact on breastfeeding rates, or falling asleep in more dangerous situations than parental beds. We must realign our resources to focus on the greater risk factors, and that may include greater investment in smoking cessation and doing away with aggressive formula marketing. This includes eliminating conflicts of interest between formula marketing companies and organizations dedicated to the health of children.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bedding and Linens / adverse effects
  • Breast Feeding*
  • Evidence-Based Practice
  • Female
  • Guidelines as Topic
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant Care*
  • Infant Formula
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Maternal Behavior
  • Pacifiers / adverse effects
  • Parents / education
  • Parents / psychology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Prone Position
  • Risk Factors
  • Sleep*
  • Smoking / adverse effects*
  • Sudden Infant Death / etiology
  • Sudden Infant Death / prevention & control*
  • Supine Position
  • Tobacco Smoke Pollution / adverse effects*


  • Tobacco Smoke Pollution