Factors influencing maternal decision-making for the infant sleep environment in families at higher risk of SIDS: a qualitative study

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Objective: Qualitative interviews with mothers of babies at higher risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) were carried out to understand their views and decision-making process on the infant sleep environment and safe sleep messages.

Design and setting: Twenty semi-structured interviews were conducted between February and November 2014 in deprived areas of Bristol, UK. Mothers were asked about their decision-making for the infant sleep environment and safe sleep messages including infant sleep position, co-sleeping, smoking, dummy use, feeding and disrupted routines. The interviews were transcribed, coded and thematic analysis carried out.

Participants: Participants were invited based on an algorithm developed in a previous SIDS case control study that identified an increased risk of SIDS from four demographic characteristics: young maternal age, smoking during pregnancy, three or more children, and a measure of deprivation. The presence of three, or more characteristics led to being invited to take part in the qualitative study.

Results: Factors influencing mothers' adherence to the safe sleep messages included previous experience and the credibility of the advice given. They described disrupted routines that led to risky scenarios with a belief that occasional risks were acceptable. Where circumstances made following the advice more difficult they found alternative strategies to reduce the risk, including the use of movement monitors, regular checking and a belief that lighter maternal sleep in the presence of a baby was protective.

Conclusions: Safer sleep messages should be tailored to fit with the lived realities of mothers, especially those at higher risk. The traditional list of 'do's' and 'don'ts' was not well accepted by this group. Interventions that seek to influence this higher-risk group should acknowledge mothers' own protective instincts and consider their beliefs and understanding behind the safer sleep messages if they are to be effective and encourage this group to change.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere000133
Number of pages6
JournalBMJ Paediatrics Open
Issue number1
Early online date4 Sep 2017
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2017

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