DALLAS -- The rates of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) are falling around the world in response to campaigns aimed at persuading parents to stop putting their babies to sleep face-down, a researcher reported at a medical meeting last week.
Although official U.S. statistics are not yet available past 1989, a preliminary survey of 39 states suggests that the drop is also occurring in this country, said Dr. John G. Brooks, professor and chairman of pediatrics at Dartmouth College.
According to the survey, the SIDS rates in the United States may have dropped by about 25 percent from 1989 to 1993, he reported.
"We're not certain of this data," Dr. Brooks said at the American Academy of Pediatrics annual meeting Wednesday. "But I think we can at least be reassured that the rates are no longer going up."
As the campaign to persuade parents to put their babies to sleep on their backs or sides has spread around the world, SIDS rates have dropped from 3.5 per 1,000 live births in England to 0.6 per 1,000. Australia has seen a decline from 3.4 per 1,000 before the campaign began to 1.5 after.
The most recent SIDS rates in the United States -- 1.51 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1989 -- were already among the lowest in the developed world.
Even so, the practice of putting babies to sleep on their backs or sides has gone hand-in-hand with declining SIDS death rates in every other country.
In England, for instance, the decline in SIDS death accompanied a pronounced change in how parents put their babies to sleep, from 57 percent of babies put to sleep face-down before the campaign started to just 2 percent after it started.
Surgeon General M. Joycelyn Elders launched the "Back to Sleep" campaign in the United States on June 21. The campaign seeks to urge parents to put their infants to bed on their backs or sides and to avoid soft sleeping surfaces, especially bean bags.