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Pacifier Use Could Cut Crib Deaths by 90 Percent

Pacifiers and SIDS

Kaiser Permanente study provides new hope for SIDS risk

Oakland, Calif. December 8, 2005. Using a pacifier during sleep can reduce a baby’s risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or SIDS, by more than 90 percent. That’s the finding of a new study by researchers at the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research (DOR) in Oakland, California.

While pacifier use has been linked to reduced risk of SIDS for some time, this study finds additional protective benefits from pacifiers, even for children considered at high risk.

The study, published in the on-line edition of the BMJ (, and upcoming print edition, looked at 185 babies, who died from SIDS in 10 Northern California counties and Los Angeles County from 1997 to 2000. They were compared to 312 normal infants of a similar age and from similar socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds.

Lead researcher, De-Kun Li, MD, PhD, said “Pacifier use has been linked to lower rates of SIDS for some time, but this is the first study to examine this relationship comprehensively and in the context of its interaction with other risk factors for SIDS.”

Dr. Li added that pacifiers may help protect an infant because the bulky handle stops the baby from accidentally suffocating in heavy blankets or soft bedding. The handle may alter a child’s sleep environment by changing the configuration of the airway passage surrounding the nose and mouth.

The study also finds that the protective effect of the pacifier seems to be greater even when an infant was in an adverse sleep environment (such as sleeping face down or on their side, sleeping with a mother who smoked, or sleeping on soft bedding).

SIDS is the leading cause of death among infants between the ages of 1 month and one year, claiming some 2,500 lives every year in the U.S. In the early 1990s a campaign urging parents to put their children to sleep on their backs helped reduce the number of SIDS deaths by more than 40 percent.

Dr. Li said that although his findings need further research it is possible that using a pacifier could help reduce the number of SIDS deaths even more.

The Kaiser Permanente Division of Research conducts, publishes, and disseminates epidemiologic and health services research to improve the health and medical care of Kaiser Permanente members and the society at large. It seeks to understand the determinants of illness and well being and to improve the quality and cost-effectiveness of health care. Currently, DOR’s 400-plus staff is working on more than 250 epidemiological and health services research projects.

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