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Guest Column: Making sure that infants sleep safely

September 12, 2013|By Deanne Tilton Durfee

It's a parent's worst nightmare to lose a child. But every five days in Los Angeles County a baby suffocates while sleeping, making bed-sharing and unsafe sleep environments the leading preventable cause of infant death in the county.

According to recently released data from the Inter-Agency Council on Child Abuse and Neglect, between 2008 and 2011 more babies died from suffocation due to unsafe sleep than all accidental deaths for children under age 14 combined. This means that unsafe sleeping kills more babies than drowning, poisoning and car accidents.

These infants are dying from a number of suffocation dangers. Autopsy reports conducted by the Los Angeles County Coroner reveal that the top causes of suffocation include babies sharing a bed with parents or sleeping on a couch; cribs cluttered with blankets, pillows, bumper pads and stuffed toys; and babies sleeping on their sides or stomachs.

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Infants younger than the age of 1 are at greatest risk of suffocation because their bodies are still developing. For the first three to four months, babies can only breathe through their noses and don't have the strength to move their heads. A baby's nose, unlike an adult's, doesn't have cartilage. So when that nose is pressed against an object like a stuffed animal, couch cushions or even a parent's arm while sleeping in bed, it can flatten easily. With the opening to its nostrils blocked, the baby can't breathe and it suffocates.

This type of death is silent and quick, occurring within seconds. Even the lightest sleeper wouldn't necessarily be able to save their baby and baby monitors won't catch these deaths either.

However, by taking a few precautions, every parent and caregiver is capable of putting their baby to sleep safely.

These precautions are simple. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends sharing a room — not a bed — with a baby, and keeping cribs clear of blankets and soft objects. ICAN's Safe Sleep for Baby campaign endorses the same recommendations because there is no scientific evidence that bed-sharing is safe. However, there is evidence that it increases the risk of sudden infant deaths and infant suffocation.

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