SIDS , or sudden infant death syndrome, is the leading cause of death in infants, and yet very little is known about what causes the syndrome. The national Back to Sleep program, which has educated parents about placing infants to sleep on their backs, has helped reduce the incidence of SIDS. But with SIDS still a leading cause of infant mortality, scientists continue to search for new preventive measures. One such measure involves the use of pacifiers.

In an article published on December 8, 2005 in the online first edition of the British Medical Journal , researchers report that babies who slept with pacifiers were significantly less likely to die of SIDS than babies who did not sleep with a pacifier.

About the Study

The researchers interviewed the mothers of 185 infants who had died of SIDS ( case patients) and the mothers of 312 infants ( control patients) who were matched to the SIDS infants based on geographic location, the age and ethnicity of the mother, and age (at death for the SIDS infants, or at time of interview for the living infants). The mothers were asked whether or not the infants were sleeping with a pacifier the night before death or before the interview, as well as other questions about sleep environment such as sleep position and type of bedding.

Infants who slept with a pacifier were 92 percent less likely to die of SIDS than infants who slept without one. This was true even after the researchers took other aspects of the babies’ sleep environment into consideration.

The results of this case-control study should be interpreted with some caution. The researchers may have selected a group of control patients in which a large proportion slept with pacifiers by chance; it’s possible that another random selection of control infants would turn up a larger proportion of non-pacifier users.

How Does This Affect You?

This study found that babies who slept with a pacifier were significantly less likely to die of SIDS than babies who slept without one. For many babies—and their parents—pacifiers are indispensable. But not all parents want to give their child a pacifier. And for now, there’s not enough SIDS-related evidence to encourage reluctant parents to do so.

If you are the parent or caregiver of an infant, here are a few preventive measures you can, and should, take:

  • Put a baby to sleep on his or her back
  • Put a baby to sleep on a firm mattress
  • Avoid soft bedding
  • Do not allow a baby to become overheated while he or she sleeps
  • Do not expose an infant to second-hand smoke