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updated 12/17/2010 1:28:02 PM ET 2010-12-17T18:28:02

Parents planning their New Year’s eve celebrations have yet another reason for resolving to drink with moderation: A new study suggests that parents' alcohol consumption may be linked to an increased risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

Researchers discovered a 33 percent spike in the number of SIDS cases occurs on New Year’s day, which they correlated with heavy drinking the night before, according to the study published in the journal Addiction. They also found a smaller, but clear, increase in the number of sudden infant deaths on weekends, compared to weekdays.

“The message to parents is that they should understand that just as alcohol degrades your performance in other types of tasks, it also may affect your ability to take care of young children,” said the study’s lead author, David P. Phillips, a professor at the University of California, San Diego.

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Phillips suspects that parents who have had too much to drink may not pay as much attention to how they lay their infants down, sometimes putting babies on their stomachs rather than on their backs which is the recommended position to prevent SIDS.

It’s also possible that parents who choose to sleep with their babies in the same bed may inadvertently roll on top of the baby if there has been a heavy night of drinking, he said.

For the new study, Phillips and his colleagues scrutinized national death certificate data from 1973 through 2004, eventually focusing on the 129,090 recorded cases of SIDS. The researchers also pored through data on motor vehicle crashes to get a sense of when Americans drink the most heavily.

Paralleling the 33 percent spike in SIDS cases was a significant bump in alcohol consumption on New Year’s eve. While this doesn’t prove that the alcohol was the cause of the rise in SIDS cases, Phillips and his colleagues believe the circumstantial case is strong, especially since the car crash data also showed that kids were less likely to be belted in when at least one adult in the vehicle was alcohol impaired.

The link between alcohol and infant death came as no surprise to Dr. Raymond Pitetti, associate director of emergency medicine at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

“Every New Year’s day, inevitably, kids come in to the E.R. because of something related to their parents’ drinking, whether it’s a car accident or the kids drinking alcohol in the morning that their parents hadn’t put away from a party the night before.”

'Make sure your kids are safe'
Parents need to realize that they can be impaired when they drink, Pitetti said.

“It’s fine to go out to New Year’s eve parties, but make sure your kids are safe,” he added. “If you’re going to go out to have a good time and drink that’s fine, but make sure there’s someone else at home to take care of the kids, a grandparent or what have you. You have to realize that just as you can’t drive a car when you’re drunk, you can’t parent effectively when you drink.”

A leading SIDS expert, Dr. Warren Guntheroth, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington, said that physicians dating back to 100 A.D. have suggested that it might be dangerous for infant caregivers to consume alcohol. “The Greek gynecologist Soranus wrote a book counseling caregivers against drinking and against bed sharing,” Guntheroth said.

Guntheroth suspects that the real cause for the spike in infant deaths on New Year’s is the combined effects of bed sharing and drinking. But, he said, it might also be related to the fact that on New Year’s eve, as on weekends, parents are more likely to have baby sitters caring for their children.

“I don’t think you can blame it all on [parental] drinking,” he added. “You might also ask about the baby sitter. Was she drinking?”

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