These Unsafe Sleep Practices Are Linked to Spike in Infant Deaths
Health officials are reminding parents to adhere to safe sleep practices after several hospitals and health departments across the US reported a spike in sleep-related infant deaths.
Most recently, Texas’ Cook Children’s Medical Center reported a record high of 30 unsafe sleep-related infant deaths since last January. The hospital, which sees thousands of children each year, says more children died due to sleep-related accidents than those killed by fatal gunshot wounds and drownings combined.
Unlike sudden unexpected infant deaths, also known as SUIDS, where the cause of death is not obvious, Cook Children’s says unsafe sleep-related infant deaths have a clear cause and are most often preventable.
The majority of Cook Children’s unsafe sleep deaths in 2022 and so far in 2023 involved co-sleeping with at least one parent or caregiver, who awoke to find the child unresponsive. Co-sleeping, or the practice of sharing a bed with your baby, has been deemed an unsafe sleep practice by the American Academy of Pediatrics for decades. In its most recent safe sleep update, the organization stressed the importance of sharing a room with your sleeping infant for the first six months but not sharing your bed under any circumstances.
Cook Children’s Renaissance Neighborhood Clinic’s Candle Johnson, APRN, CPNP-PC, says she often faces pushback from families who cite a generational or cultural pattern of co-sleeping and praise its ease when it comes to comforting baby and breastfeeding.
“Even though it may be easier, it’s not safe. No one can control their body function once they’re sleeping. When you’re in a deep sleep, and your infant is next to you, you’re not able to say ‘I won’t roll over on them,” Johnson explains in a press release.
Outside of co-sleeping Cook Children’s Medical Center also points to crowded, cluttered cribs and couches as the other leading cause of sleep-related infant deaths. Trauma records list circumstances where babies were placed on a pillow with a propped bottle, in a crib with a blanket or pillow, in a recliner or on the couch next to a sleeping adult, or wearing a loose T-shirt that covered their face.
Johnson notes that parent awareness and education are key to stopping these preventable sleep deaths. Cook Children’s Medical Center reminds parents of these five key safe sleep rules.
- Always place your baby on their back to sleep. Side and stomach sleeping are not safe for infants who can’t roll over.
- Use a firm, flat mattress or sleeping surface with tightly-fitted sheets. The surface shouldn’t be sloped.
- Share a room but not a bed with your baby. Babies should sleep in their own cribs or bassinet.
- Clear your baby’s sleep area of blankets, pillows, bumper pads and soft toys.
- Sleep sacks are recommended instead of swaddling, especially after your baby is able to roll over.
Need a review of safe sleep practices? Check out this pediatrician-approved list of safe sleep do’s and don’ts.
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