Public health researchers at the University of Adelaide are hoping to raise awareness among childcare centres of the potentially deadly consequences of using cot mattresses that are too soft.
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) has been linked to several risk factors associated with sleep practices and environment, including the relationship between a soft sleep surface and infant death.
In 2013, a new voluntary standard was introduced by Standards Australia and Standards New Zealand to define a firm enough sleep surface for infants. The standard, AS/NZS 8811.1:2013 Methods of testing infant products Method 1: Sleep surfaces – Test for firmness, is a world-first. It provides a test method for use by industry and regulators that will minimise the risk of infant asphyxiation by identifying sleep surfaces with less than a specified firmness.
However, in a study of 28 childcare centres in the Adelaide metropolitan area, University of Adelaide researchers found that half of the centres had at least one infant mattress that did not comply with the standard. Of the 145 mattresses tested at the centres, 57 of them (or 39.3%) failed the minimum firmness test.
Paul Rothmore, from the University of Adelaide’s School of Population Health, says that there was a lack of awareness of the voluntary standard and ‘softness’ as a risk factor for infant suffocation. An easy way to address this hazard would be to make the standard mandatory, and to regularly test mattresses in childcare centres. ‘If just one child's life can be saved by making a few simple changes, it would be worth it.’
Link between infant mortality and overly soft sleep surfaces
Research has shown a link between infant mortality and overly soft sleep surfaces that hinder or obstruct an infant's breathing. AS/NZS 8811.1 presents a test method for evaluating the firmness of surfaces on which an infant might be reasonably expected to fall asleep, on a mattress or other similar horizontal areas, for example, pram, infant cocoon, bassinet, cradle, and others.
Rothmore says if a sleep surface fails the test outlined by the standard, on average it has a three times greater risk of killing a child from suffocation. ‘Given that almost a third of Australian children under the age of 2 years spend time in childcare; it’s important that these environments are kept as safe as possible.’
Study tested softness of mattresses
The study was conducted by University of Adelaide Bachelor of Health Sciences student McKeely Maney, who used a device outlined in the standard to test the softness of mattresses.
If a mattress was deemed ‘too soft’, the centre was advised that they should replace the mattress as soon as possible. Some centres also placed blankets and pillows under mattresses, propping them up, creating an uneven and unsafe surface.
Maney says that while the results of the audit were alarming, it was refreshing to see that many childcare centres were receptive and welcoming of safety testing, and willing to do something about the problem once it was highlighted.
Read about safety defects in portable cots.
Summarised from a Medical Press media release.