Summary of unanswered questions regarding infant mortality during adult-infant bedsharing

January 14, 2015

Summary of unanswered questions regarding infant mortality during adult-infant bedsharing


On May 20 in Washington DC, IGPA will host a brainstorming meeting regarding unanswered questions in the prevention of infant mortality, particularly risks related to adult-infant bed sharing. Building on the 2013 Family Impact Seminar, Guarding All Children in Sleep: New Ideas for Reducing Disparities in Safe Sleep Practices, this innovative meeting aims to nurture research-practice-policy partnerships that can support safe infant sleep practices in Illinois and other states.

At the 2013 Family Impact Seminar in Chicago, presenters demonstrated that despite a rapid decline in infant mortality in the U.S. in the 1990s, infant mortality rates plateaued in the 2000s. The U.S. still has higher rates of infant mortality than many other industrialized nations, and deaths attributed to accidental suffocation or unsafe sleep environments have been on the rise.

Particularly concerning are persistent racial and ethnic disparities in SIDS. The SIDS death rate remains almost double for black babies in contrast to whites nationally. In Illinois, there is a near four-fold difference in the SIDS rate between black and white babies.

Yet, debate continues about recommended policy and practice interventions to further reduce SIDS deaths. One controversial issue is the AAP recommendation that parents not bed share. In-depth interviews and focus group studies suggest that new strategies may be needed in order to adapt public health messages and interventions for particular subgroups. The intersection between recommendations to promote safe infant sleep and to promote breastfeeding is another important consideration, given some evidence of positive associations between bedsharing and breastfeeding. (Learn more about this issue in The Illinois Report 2014).

The meeting in Washington DC, led by IGPA associate director and sociologist Rachel Gordon, is designed to bring together scholars and other stakeholders with differing perspectives on these topics. Because debate on this topic has sometimes been polarizing, they will use an adversarial collaboration model to constructively critique proposed research questions and research strategies, with the aim of building in the alternative hypotheses, approaches, and analyses that scholars and practitioners from each vantage point would find most compelling. The desired end product will be concrete ideas about new multidisciplinary research projects. The group will also identify potential federal, state and local partners for these projects, recognizing the intersection of multiple layers of guidelines and legislation related to safe infant sleep practices.

Download the PDF below for a summary of major unanswered questions regarding infant mortality during adult-infant bedsharing that were identified at the meeting 

This summary is based on the conversation, although it may or may not reflect the views of any individual participants. Participants included:

  • Susan Altfeld, Clinical Assistant Professor, Community Health Sciences, School of Public Health, University of Illinois at Chicago
  • Shavon Artis, Dr.P.H., M.P.H., Safe to Sleep Campaign, Public Communications Branch, Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institutes of Health
  • Rachel Gordon, Professor, Department of Sociology, Associate Director, Institute of Government and Public Affairs, University of Illinois at Chicago
  • Fern R. Hauck, MD, MS, Spencer P. Bass MD Twenty-First Century Professor of Family Medicine, Professor of Public Health Sciences, Director, International Family Medicine Clinic, University of Virginia, Department of Family Medicine
  • Barb Himes, IBCLC, Director of Education & Training, First Candle - Helping Babies Survive and Thrive
  • Darren Lubotsky, Associate Professor, Department of Economics and Institute of Government and Public Affairs, University of Illinois at Chicago
  • Rochelle Mayer, Ed.D., Research Professor and Director, National Center for Education in Maternal and Child Health, Georgetown University
  • Marian MacDorman, Senior Statistician, National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control
  • Wendy Middlemiss, Associate Professor, University of North Texas
  • Rachel Moon, Professor of Pediatrics, George Washington University, Children's National Medical Center, Center for Translational Science 
  • Nadine Peacock, Associate Professor, Community Health Sciences, Maternal and Child Health Program, School of Public Health, University of Illinois at Chicago
  • Carrie Shapiro-Mendoza, Division of Reproductive Health (SIDS National Case Registry), National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • Lane Volpe, Medical Anthropologist, Vice President, The Implementation Group


(.PDF 165.87 KB)

Research Area: Education, Learning, and Child and Family Well-Being

Policy Initiative: none