Magazine photos of sleeping babies may give new moms the wrong idea

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Getty Images/Asia Images

Getty Images/Asia Images

In an analysis of 28 wide circulation women’s magazines, researchers found that more than one third of the images of sleeping babies show them lying down in a position that could increase their risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). The alarming number of photos reinforcing unsafe sleeping positions may be giving young mothers the wrong idea about how best to ensure their newborns’ safety, researchers say. The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, focused on magazines whose target audience is women of childbearing age (20-40) and found that, in addition to many photos showing babies sleeping on their stomachs—as opposed to on their backs, as pediatricians recommend—two thirds of photos also showed them in unsafe sleep environments, surrounded by lots of soft bedding or sharing a crib with another infant, for example.

The study, led by SIDS researcher Dr. Rachel Moon, included popular magazines such as Allure, Cosmopolitan, US Weekly and Entertainment Weekly, but also analyzed photos from more pregnancy specific titles, such as Fit Pregnancy and Pregnancy and Newborn. Ads were somewhat more likely than editorial photos to portray babies in unsafe sleeping positions or environments, but by a slim margin—about 65% of ads with sleeping babies portrayed them in ways inconsistent with American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Recommendations, while, 63% of pictures of sleeping newborns used in articles showed them in unsafe conditions.

The principle concern, researchers say, is that many people, knowingly or not, take cues from magazine photos. “Messages in the media that are inconsistent with health messages create confusion and misinformation about infant sleep safety and may lead inadvertently to unsafe practices,” Moon and colleagues write in the study. Considering that the AAP Task Force on Infant Positioning and SIDS first released a report in 1992 recommending, among other things, that infants sleep on their backs, researchers say it’s high time that media images reinforced doctor’s orders, not undermined them.

The AAP recommends that infants sleep alone, on their backs, without lots of soft items, such as pillows or fluffy blankets, surrounding them. The AAP guidelines, and full text of the task force report (updated in 2005 by Moon and colleagues) can be accessed here.

A fact sheet on SIDS from Children’s National Medical Center.