Putting your infant child to sleep on an air mattress is a dangerous—and potentially fatal—decision.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has received multiple reports of infant deaths from sleeping on air mattresses, most commonly among infants younger than 8 months. Most of these tragic deaths are caused by the infant sleeping face-down on the air mattress and being unable to breathe or suffocating after falling into the gap between the mattress and the adjacent wall or furniture.

Even when the mattress is properly inflated, it is generally too soft for infants to maintain a clear airway. If the mattress suffers an air leak or is under-inflated, the risk increases even further.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ “Safe to Sleep” campaign offers advice and a range of helpful tips for parents of newborns.

This public education initiative works to reduce the occurrence of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), the leading cause of death among infants less than 1 year old. Approximately 2,000 babies died of SIDS in 2010, and health professionals continue to investigate the exact cause of these unexpected deaths.

“We don’t know exactly what causes SIDS at this time,” the Safe to Sleep website states. “More and more research evidence suggests that infants who die from SIDS are born with brain abnormalities or defects. These defects are typically found within a network of nerve cells that send signals to other nerve cells. The cells are located in the part of the brain that probably controls breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, and waking from sleep. At the present time, there is no way to identify babies who have these abnormalities, but researchers are working to develop specific screening tests.”

While SIDS deaths are not always explainable, a large number have to do with the child’s sleeping environment. Creating a safe sleeping environment will greatly reduce the risk of suffocation and SIDS.

Safe to Sleep has the following recommendations for creating a safe sleeping environment:

  • Use a firm sleeping surface, such as a mattress in a safety-approved crib covered by a fitted sheet
  • Do not use pillows, blankets, sheepskins, or crib bumpers anywhere in your child’s sleep area
  • Keep soft objects, toys, and loose bedding out of your baby’s sleep area
  • Do not smoke or let anyone smoke around your baby
  • Make sure nothing covers the baby’s head
  • Always place your baby on his or her back to sleep, for naps, and at night
  • Dress your baby in sleep clothing, such as a one-piece sleeper, and do not use a blanket
  • Your baby’s sleep area should be next to where you sleep
  • Do not put your baby to sleep in an adult bed, on a couch, or on a chair alone (either with you or with anyone else)