- The Washington Times - Friday, December 9, 2005

Putting a baby to sleep with a pacifier can reduce an infant’s risk of dying of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) by 90 percent, federal health researchers report.

The findings by investigators with the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), which is part of the National Institutes of Health, and Kaiser Permanente were published online yesterday by the British Medical Journal.

This is at least the second recent U.S. study to find that a pacifier significantly cuts the risk of SIDS. Several other studies found that a pacifier lowers the risk by 50 percent to 70 percent.

“We don’t really know how this works, but this study adds to the body of evidence” indicating that giving a baby a pacifier during sleep significantly reduces the risk of SIDS, said Marian Willinger, special assistant for SIDS at the institute and a lead investigator in the research.

SIDS is a condition in which a baby, usually younger than 6 months, is put to sleep, then dies without warning.

The results bolster a recommendation made in October by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) that parents consider providing their babies with pacifiers both at bedtime and nap time throughout the first year of life to lessen the risk of SIDS.

About 2,300 babies die of SIDS in the United States each year, Ms. Willinger said.

In the latest study, investigators interviewed the mothers of 185 babies who died of SIDS in California from 1997 to 2000, as well as the mothers of 312 living infants, Ms. Willinger said.

Mothers of babies who died of SIDS were asked about the “sleeping environment” of their infants’ last sleep, and mothers of living infants were asked to discuss how their baby slept the previous night.

The researchers found that use of pacifiers during sleep “was associated with a reduced risk of SIDS consistently across a wide range of socioeconomic characteristics and risk factor profiles.”

They also determined that pacifiers “reduced the adverse effects” of recognized risk factors for SIDS, including putting a baby to sleep on his stomach, rather than his back, or placing him on soft bedding.

Critics warn that infants can become dependent on pacifiers, and that the devices can hamper breast-feeding as well as slightly elevate the risk of childhood ear infections.

Although it is not certain why pacifiers reduce the risk for SIDS, some evidence suggests infants who use them are more easily aroused from sleep, therefore less likely to have their nose and mouth covered by bedding. Pacifiers also might improve a baby’s ability to breathe through the mouth if the nasal airway passages become blocked.

Ms. Willinger said she thinks the main drawback of pacifiers is that “a baby may not want it.” If that is so, she said, a caregiver should not force it on an infant.

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