Many parents put soft bedding such as pillows and blankets where babies sleep, despite warnings that the cushioning increases the risk of infant death, a U.S. study said.
That's because many are under the impression that a soft sleeping environment means the baby will be more comfortable or protected from injuries, said Rachel Moon, from Children's National Medical Center in Washington D.C. and one of the study's authors.
"When it comes to babies' sleep environment, soft is not safe, it's actually dangerous," she added.
Parents may misinterpret a pediatrician's recommendations or what constitutes a safe sleeping environment, said Debra Weese-Mayer, a pediatrician at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
According to findings published in Pediatrics, more than half of the mothers reported using soft bedding for their baby, telling researchers they wanted to make sure the children were comfortable and warm. They also said they used pillows as a barricade on beds or sofas, or to prop babies up.
"We were surprised that people use (soft bedding) because they think it's going to make their baby safer," Moon said. "
Some mothers thought doctors' recommendations to use a "firm sleep surface" included a bed where a sheet was tucked tightly over pillows - but that's still a dangerous sleep situation, Moon and her colleagues warned.
The mothers also used bumper pads on cribs. But as with pillows and blankets, bumper pads pose a suffocation risk, Moon said, adding that there really isn't any need for them - especially for very young babies.
All the experts agreed that awareness of the dangers needs to be raised across the board.