Is it really true that babies should sleep on their backs?

Asher Meir writes:

Arnold Kling is a well-regarded economics blogger. Here he expresses skepticism about the strength of the evidence behind recommending that babies sleep on their backs.

I recall seeing another blogger expressing the same doubt at some length, or maybe it is another post by Arnold, I can’t find it right now.

Of course there are many cases of leading experts spouting authoritative advice with little evidence, but this is in many ways more worrisome. First of all they are claiming that ignoring their advice is life-threatening which is quite coercive. In fact I saw at least one court case where a mother was held liable in part for not putting her child to sleep on its back. In addition, there is really little harm to avoiding eggs even if they are not really bad for you, but the SIDS advice is affecting the well-being of millions of infants around the world as well as their parents. If the advice is not necessary it is extremely harmful just because of the lost sleep of parents and babies, and it is at least plausible that the advice is actually harming babies in other ways as Arnold mentions.

Obviously if the research is carefully done then the physicians have an obligation to warn parents not to endanger their babies but I think it is worth looking into the strength of the evidence on this.

Meir summarizes:

I am worried that this may be a redux of the ridiculous unfounded nutritional advice we have been getting for years, except that the nutritional advice was mostly merely silly and harmless and this sounds potentially quite harmful. But who knows. Let’s let your readership weigh in.

I have no idea, myself. We did follow this advice with our kids, but I’ve never looked into the statistics on it; I just assumed it was a good idea to follow the general recommendations.

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