What is SIDS?
Campaigns to increase breastfeeding in the United States have had good success in increasing the number of women who initially elect to breastfeed. In 2001, breastfeeding rates in the hospital were 72.2 percent among Whites, 73.0 percent among Hispanics and 52.9 percent among African Americans. These rates were the highest recorded since national breastfeeding data has been collected. However, disparities remain between African American women and women of other racial and ethnic groups. However, efforts to convince mothers to maintain breastfeeding have been less successful.
The percentage of women who report that they are still breastfeeding at 6 months postpartum reached a high of 32.5 percent in 2001. At 6 months postpartum, 38.5 percent of White, 38.2 percent of Hispanic, 32 percent of Native American and 21.9 percent of African American women were still breastfeeding.83 There is a long list of reasons why breastfeeding is good for infants. Whether reducing the risk of SIDS should be added to that list remains unclear. Breastfeeding is a weak protective factor for SIDS compared to sleep position, which is why studies vary in whether an effect was even found. Data presented at the Society for Pediatric Research is probably the strongest data for an association yet seen.
The 2005 AAP policy statement on SIDS, The Changing Concept of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome: Diagnostic Coding Shifts, Controversies Regarding the Sleeping Environment, and New Variables to Consider in Reducing Risk, states that although breastfeeding is beneficial and should be promoted for many reasons, the AAP Task Force on Sudden Infant Death Syndrome believes that the evidence is insufficient to recommend breastfeeding as a strategy to reduce the risk of SIDS.
Regardless of whether it is protective against SIDS, breastfeeding is clearly beneficial for the overall health of an infant. It would be remiss, however, if breastfeeding was not addressed in the context of how it relates to bedsharing.
Bedsharing, as previously discussed, is a risk factor for SIDS that has also been promoted by some breastfeeding groups and lactation consultants to increase the number of breastfeeding mothers. This is currently a very controversial debate as to how to address the risks of bedsharing while encouraging breastfeeding.