Infant sleeping position and the sudden infant death syndrome: Systematic review of observational studies and historical review of recommendations from 1940 to 2002

Centre for Evidence-based Child Health, Centre for Paediatric Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Institute of Child Health, 30 Guilford Street, London WC1N 1EH, UK.
International Journal of Epidemiology (Impact Factor: 9.18). 09/2005; 34(4):874-87. DOI: 10.1093/ije/dyi088
Source: PubMed


Before the early 1990s, parents were advised to place infants to sleep on their front contrary to evidence from clinical research.
We systematically reviewed associations between infant sleeping positions and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), explored sources of heterogeneity, and compared findings with published recommendations.
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.
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.

24 Reads
  • Source
    • "The searching for this review also identified several cumulative meta-analyses in other types of health research, which are not summarised here but have been discussed in brief elsewhere [4]. For example, if epidemiological studies investigating possible aetiological factors in sudden infant death syndrome had taken proper account of the accumulating evidence, the lethal effect of ‘front lying’ would have been recognized at least a decade earlier, and tens of thousands of infant deaths could have been avoided [9]. A cumulative meta-analysis of 55 studies that continued to be conducted over more than two decades showed that for over 17 years there had been ample evidence that never-smoking women who had been exposed to spousal smoking were more likely than controls to develop lung cancer [10]. "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Background “Cumulative meta-analysis” describes a statistical procedure to calculate, retrospectively, summary estimates from the results of similar trials every time the results of a further trial in the series had become available. In the early 1990s, comparisons of cumulative meta-analyses of treatments for myocardial infarction with advice promulgated through medical textbooks showed that research had continued long after robust estimates of treatment effects had accumulated, and that medical textbooks had overlooked strong, existing evidence from trials. Cumulative meta-analyses have subsequently been used to assess what could have been known had new studies been informed by systematic reviews of relevant existing evidence and how waste might have been reduced. Methods and Findings We used a systematic approach to identify and summarise the findings of cumulative meta-analyses of studies of the effects of clinical interventions, published from 1992 to 2012. Searches were done of PubMed, MEDLINE, EMBASE, the Cochrane Methodology Register and Science Citation Index. A total of 50 eligible reports were identified, including more than 1,500 cumulative meta-analyses. A variety of themes are illustrated with specific examples. The studies showed that initially positive results became null or negative in meta-analyses as more trials were done; that early null or negative results were over-turned; that stable results (beneficial, harmful and neutral) would have been seen had a meta-analysis been done before the new trial; and that additional trials had been much too small to resolve the remaining uncertainties. Conclusions This large, unique collection of cumulative meta-analyses highlights how a review of the existing evidence might have helped researchers, practitioners, patients and funders make more informed decisions and choices about new trials over decades of research. This would have led to earlier uptake of effective interventions in practice, less exposure of trial participants to less effective treatments, and reduced waste resulting from unjustified research.
    PLoS ONE 07/2014; 9(7):e102670. DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0102670 · 3.23 Impact Factor
  • Source
    • "Modern medical studies have concluded that infants who sleep in the prone position have a seven-fold increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). This has led to “back to sleep” campaigns in Britain (1991) and in the United States (1994).[19] "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Sleep medicine is a relatively new scientific specialty. Sleep is an important topic in Islamic literature, and the Quran and Hadith discuss types of sleep, the importance of sleep, and good sleep practices. Islam considers sleep as one of the signs of the greatness of Allνh (God) and encourages followers to explore this important sign. The Quran describes different types of sleep, and these correspond with sleep stages identified by modern science. The Quran discusses the beneficial effects of sleep and emphasizes the importance of maintaining a pattern of light and darkness. A mid-day nap is an important practice for Muslims, and the Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him (pbuh) promoted naps as beneficial. In accordance with the practice and instructions of Muhammad (pbuh), Muslims have certain sleep habits and these sleep habits correspond to some of the sleep hygiene rules identified by modern science. Details during sleep include sleep position, like encouraging sleep on the right side and discouraging sleep in the prone position. Dream interpretation is an established science in the Islamic literature and Islamic scholars have made significant contributions to theories of dream interpretation. We suggest that sleep scientists examine religious literature in general and Islamic literature in particular, to understand the views, behaviors, and practices of ancient people about the sleep and sleep disorders. Such studies may help to answer some unresolved questions in sleep science or lead to new areas of inquiry.
    10/2011; 6(4):187-92. DOI:10.4103/1817-1737.84771
  • Source
    • "For example, a systematic review of observational studies examining the relationship between infant sleeping position and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) found an odds ratio (OR) of 4.1 (95% confidence interval [CI]: 3.1, 5.5) of SIDS occurring with front vs. back sleeping positions [1]. Furthermore, ''back to sleep'' campaigns that were started in the 1980s to encourage back sleeping position were associated with a relative decline in the incidence of SIDS by 50e70% in numerous countries [1]. "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: The most common reason for rating up the quality of evidence is a large effect. GRADE suggests considering rating up quality of evidence one level when methodologically rigorous observational studies show at least a two-fold reduction or increase in risk, and rating up two levels for at least a five-fold reduction or increase in risk. Systematic review authors and guideline developers may also consider rating up quality of evidence when a dose-response gradient is present, and when all plausible confounders or biases would decrease an apparent treatment effect, or would create a spurious effect when results suggest no effect. Other considerations include the rapidity of the response, the underlying trajectory of the condition, and indirect evidence.
    Journal of clinical epidemiology 07/2011; 64(12):1311-6. DOI:10.1016/j.jclinepi.2011.06.004 · 3.42 Impact Factor
Show more


24 Reads
Available from