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Baby images on nappy packages in Europe are showing unsafe sleeping practices, new study finds

Diapers shown in a French pharmacy
Diapers shown in a French pharmacy Copyright MARTIN BUREAU/AFP
Copyright MARTIN BUREAU/AFP
By Lauren Chadwick
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A new study has revealed that a high number of baby nappy packaging shows unsafe infant sleeping practices.

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The images on baby nappy packages in Europe are inconsistent with safe sleep recommendations for infants to prevent sudden death, according to a new study.

French researchers analysed the marketing photos on more than 631 nappy packs in 11 European countries and found an elevated number of concerning images.

Several packages depicted babies sleeping on their stomachs or on their sides on soft bedding, surrounded by accessories, or sharing a bed with another person.

It is recommended, however, that babies sleep on their backs on a flat, firm mattress to prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), which is the unexplained death of an otherwise healthy baby under the age of one.

Babies should not be surrounded by pillows or toys and should not share a bed with another person, according to the European Association for Injury Prevention and Safety Promotion (EuroSafe).

Parents can also reduce the risk of SIDS by not smoking during pregnancy or around the baby.

“The prevention of sudden unexpected death in infancy requires action from manufacturers and legislators to stop parents’ exposure to misleading images that may lead to dangerous practices,” the study authors concluded.

The researchers from France’s National Institute of Health and Medical Research (Inserm), Paris Cité University and HEC Paris published their findings in the Journal of Pediatrics.

Examples of nappy packaging with concerning images.
Examples of nappy packaging with concerning images.Martin Chalumeau/Inserm

How many nappy packages contained concerning images?

Of the more than 300 nappy packs that showed images of an infant sleeping, they found that 79 per cent were inconsistent with at least one safe sleeping recommendation.

The researchers said that in 45 per cent of the nappy packs with a picture of a baby, the infant was depicted in a prone position or on their side, despite this being a known risk factor for SIDS.

In 51 per cent of the packs, babies were depicted with soft objects or loose bedding, and in 10 per cent of them, the baby was shown sharing a sleep surface with another person.

“Our findings highlight a discrepancy between the messages conveyed on these everyday products or on institutional sites, to which many parents are highly exposed, and the recommendations for the prevention of SIDS,” said study author Martin Chalumeau, an epidemiologist at Inserm and paediatrician with the Paris University hospital system, in a statement.

The infant mortality rate in European countries has fallen dramatically since 1961 from 38.2 deaths per 1,000 live births to 3.2 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2021, according to the EU’s statistics agency Eurostat.

They range from 5.6 deaths per 1,000 live births in Bulgaria to 1.8 deaths per 1,000 live births in Sweden, Finland, and Slovenia.

According to a 2018 OECD/European Union report, two-thirds of infant deaths occur in the first month due to congenital anomalies, prematurity, or other conditions.

For deaths occurring between one month and one year, SIDS was one of the most common causes.

The Inserm researchers said that while SIDS has decreased significantly in European countries since the 1990s (due to public awareness campaigns about risk factors), incidence rates are no longer decreasing or are doing so very slowly.

“We need to reduce exposure to commercial or official images that are inconsistent with the recommendations for the prevention of SIDS in order to prevent unsafe sleep practices,” Chalumeau added.

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