Infants who slept in a bedroom with a fan ventilating the air had a 72 percent lower risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome compared to infants who slept in a bedroom without a fan, according to a new study by the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research.
This is the first study to examine an association between better air ventilation in infants' bedrooms and reduced SIDS risk.
The finding is consistent with previous research that showed factors influencing a baby's sleep environment change SIDS risk. Among those factors are sleeping on the stomach, and soft bedding, both of which may limit air ventilation around an infant's breathing pathway and thus increase the chance of re-breathing exhaled carbon dioxide, the researchers said.
"Although this is the first finding linking fan use to SIDS, concerned parents can take measures to improve ventilation of infants sleep environment, by adding fans in rooms or opening windows. Other studies have found that parents can also reduce the chance of re-breathing carbon dioxide by putting infants to sleep on their back, avoiding soft bedding and overheating, and by using a pacifier," said study author Dr. De-Kun Li, a reproductive and perinatal epidemiologist at Kaiser Permanente's Division of Research in Oakland.
The study also found that opening a window in infant's room reduced the risk of SIDS by 36 percent compared to babies who slept in a room with closed windows, though this connection was not statistically significant according to the researchers.
"More studies need to be done to determine the exact relationship between the types of ventilation and the risks of SIDS," said Li, who also authored a 2006 study in the British Medical Journal that found that using a pacifier can reduce SIDS risk by 90 percent.
Funded by the National Institutes of Health, this latest study looked at 185 babies who died from SIDS in 10 Northern California counties and Los Angeles County from 1997 to 2000.
They were compared to 312 infants of a similar age and from similar socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds in the same counties.
The study found that if an infant was in a high-risk sleep environment such as sleeping on their stomach or without a pacifier, or sharing a bed with someone other than parents or in an overheated room, using a fan to improve room ventilation was particularly beneficial.
SIDS is the leading cause of death among infants aged 1 to 12 months, and the third leading cause overall of infant mortality in the United States. SIDS is defined as sudden death of an infant under the age of 1.