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December 2, 2011 > Infants dying from unsafe sleeping practices

Infants dying from unsafe sleeping practices

Submitted By Amy Cornell

Tragically, unsafe sleeping practices have been responsible for the deaths of 41 infants in Santa Clara County within the last six years. In 2011, there have been three such confirmed infant deaths. In an effort to prevent more of these tragedies, parents and caregivers are being cautioned to be aware of unsafe sleeping practices that place infants at risk.

It is extremely unsafe to put an infant to sleep on an adult bed, couch, sofa bed or other soft surface, such as a pillow. Infants can suffocate when they become trapped between cushions or their faces press against soft bedding or pillows. Sharing a bed with an infant is also extremely dangerous; adults, older children or large pets sharing a bed or other sleeping surface with a baby can easily roll on top of or up against the baby without even being aware of it during sleep and, thus, suffocate the baby.

Infants less than 12 months old should be put to sleep on their backs, alone and in their cribs or bassinets which should not contain any toys, stuffed animals or soft bedding. Babies should never sleep on adult beds, chairs, sofas, waterbeds, cushions or nursing pillows.

In Santa Clara County, the average age of the babies who have died since 2005 due to unsafe sleeping practices was three months old; almost all of them died before they turned seven months old. Most were born full term and were healthy babies; almost half died while bed sharing with an adult or older child.

To determine that unsafe sleeping was the cause of death in these cases, the Santa Clara County Medical Examiner has conducted thorough scene and medical investigations that include baby-doll reenactments. The latter allow the Medical Examiner to work closely with parents and caregivers to conduct a very careful analysis of the baby's sleeping position and the specific circumstances that led to the baby's demise. The Medical Examiner's findings are then presented to the County's Child Death Review Team for review before the deaths are classified.

Data shows that preventable, unsafe sleeping practices cause more infant deaths than Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) which is a sudden, unexplained death of a baby under one year of age and not caused by unsafe sleeping practices. Since 2005, two Santa Clara County baby deaths have been classified as SIDS.

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