Infant Safe Sleep in the District of Columbia: Better for Both

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



Health promotion practice




health equity; infant mortality; qualitative research; racial equity; safe sleep; sudden infant death syndrome


Sudden unexpected infant death (SUID) rates within the District of Columbia (DC) vary, with rates 3 times higher in certain geographical areas than the cumulative rate in DC and 7 times higher than the national rate. The majority SUIDs are due to unsafe sleep practices. Although safe sleep education and resources are available in these areas, the high sleep-related infant mortality suggests unmet barriers to infant safe sleep. We sought to investigate potential contributions to local infant mortality through focus groups regarding infant sleep practices among DC caregivers. In this qualitative study, caregivers were probed regarding barriers and facilitators of infant sleep practices. Data were collected until thematic saturation was reached, then coded. Themes were developed and revised in an iterative manner. Fifteen caregivers participated in three focus groups. Themes included sources of infant sleep knowledge, challenges for infant sleep, and motivators for infant sleep choice. All caregivers reported knowledge of safe sleep practices. Infant sleep practices varied, and included unsafe practices such as bed sharing, co-sleeping, and use of swings or bouncers for infant sleep. Challenges of adhering to safe sleep practices included infant needs, competing family demands, the overwhelming nature of newborn sleep, threats, and conflicting information. Motivators for infant sleep practices included better sleep, convenience, safety, tradition, and needs of the infant and caregiver. Although caregivers report knowledge of safe sleep recommendations, actual infant sleep practices vary and include unsafe sleep practices. More focused interventions are needed to address this gap between safe sleep knowledge and practice.