About 20 percent of survey respondents didn't get any advice on breastfeeding or placing infants to sleep on their backs — a practice that has long been proven to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS. More than 50 percent also reported not being told by doctors where their infants should sleep — the same room as the parents, but not the same bed, is the recommendation.
Black and Hispanic women were more likely to receive advice from physicians than white women, and first-time mothers were more likely to hear advice than mothers with two or more children, the study said. The advice from doctors mostly aligned with national recommendations, but 10 percent to 15 percent of the advice was inconsistent on breastfeeding and pacifiers while 25 percent was inconsistent on sleep position.
The study is important to note, as previous research has shown that new mothers are likely to listen to their doctors' recommendations. How women interact with physicians greatly influences national infant mortality rates, the authors of the study said.
"As a physician, these findings made me stop and really think about how we communicate important information to new parents," Staci Eisenberg, an author of the study and a pediatrician at Boston Medical Center, said in a statement. "We may need to be clearer and more specific in telling new mothers about safe sleep recommendations."
Often, new parents rely on advice from family members or from the media, but the study found that such information can frequently be flawed. Just over half of mothers who said they were advised by family members were told to place sleeping infants on their stomach, which is associated with the greatest risk of SIDS.
The authors of the study said some physicians may hesitate to give a recommendation because they might disagree with it or because they think it is controversial, but they also might be facing time constraints during busy office hours.
The number of babies dying before their first birthday has persistently fallen over the past few decades. Nationally, the rate stands at about six deaths per 1,000 live births, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That's about half the death rate reported in 1980.
Still, the rate is substantially higher than is found in other developed countries. There is also a large gap in terms of race. For non-white babies, the mortality rate is more than eight deaths per 1,000 births, and for black babies, it stands just over 11 deaths.