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The Ventilated Nursery

September 15, 2009
by Lisa D. Bennett
photo a baby in a crib

Research shows using fans may reduce SIDS risk

Thanks to the Back to Sleep educational campaign, most parents are now aware that babies should sleep on their backs to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), the third leading cause of infant mortality. New research finds that having a fan on in the room may also be beneficial. The findings were published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine and are based on a study funded by the National Institutes of Health, with additional support from Kaiser Permanente.

Comparing infant deaths where the final diagnosis was SIDS against a control group of infants, researchers found that the healthy babies were more likely to have slept on their backs, to have used pacifiers, and to have had no bedding or clothing covering their heads. The mothers of the healthy babies tended to be older, to be married, to have received prenatal care during their first trimester, and to have refrained from smoking during pregnancy. Most surprising, perhaps, was that fan use in a baby’s room was higher in the control group and almost nonexistent among the babies who died.

Asked to speculate why fan use may be beneficial in preventing SIDS, coauthor Kimberly Coleman-Phox, MPH ‘06, admits that researchers don’t fully understand what causes the syndrome. She theorizes, however, that the increased air circulation may help “move exhaled carbon dioxide away from the infant’s face.”

So, should all parents put a fan by the crib? Coleman-Phox cautions that, like any first finding, theirs must be replicated by other studies. Fans may prove helpful in “high-risk sleep environments,” she says, but stresses that, in the meantime, parents should adhere to the guidelines of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

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