Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Officials warn parents about sleeping with babies

BARBARA COTTER Updated: January 29, 2013 at 12:00 am

Colorado Springs Police Lt. Howard Black had been in his new post with the Special Victims Section for less than a year when he came to a grim realization: Of the seven infants who died in that short time span last year, it appeared that at least two, and perhaps two more, had been sleeping in bed with their parents.

“Think of the trauma,” Black said. “I can’t even comprehend how that parent copes. What we’re talking about is parents who are well-intentioned; good parents wanting to be close to their kiddos.”

Not every baby who sleeps with his parents’ in their bed dies, of course, but there have been enough “bed-sharing” deaths throughout the U.S. over the years to spark various public safety campaigns about the practice. This month, Weld County officials launched a “Safe Sleep” initiative after four babies died in 2012 while sleeping in their parents’ bed.

In 2011, Milwaukee officials created an ad campaign in the aftermath of nine infant deaths caused by unsafe sleeping conditions.

The ad depicts a baby in an adult bed with a butcher knife next to him. “Your baby sleeping with you can be just as dangerous,” the ad said.

It’s not just bed-sharing that can endanger a baby. Public safety campaigns extend to other potentially lethal “unsafe sleeping environments,” such as a crib filled with pillows, stuffed animals and other soft items that can suffocate a baby too tiny to extricate itself. Putting a baby to sleep on its belly or on a sofa or soft armchair are other hazards.

“We call them ‘killer couches,’” said Sally Duncan, trauma outreach and injury prevention specialist for Memorial Hospital, and a member of the Colorado SIDS Fatality Review Committee. “People put a child to sleep on a couch or chair, because they think the baby will stay exactly how they put them. But they turn, and put their face again a surface.”

Last year, the El Paso County Coroner’s Office investigated 16 deaths of babies one day old to 1-year-old. Six occurred in unsafe sleeping environments, including one child who was crushed in the parents’ bed, and another who suffocated after being placed face-down on an adult pillow in its crib, said Dr. Leon Kelly, deputy chief medical examiner for the El Paso County Coroner’s Office.

“The reality is, a kid should be laid down on his back in a crib with nothing else in it,” Kelly said.

Statewide, from 2007 through 2011, there were 308 sleep-related infant deaths — more than the number of Colorado children who died from abuse and neglect in the same period. Not all were from unsafe sleeping conditions, and some are attributed to SIDS — sudden infant death syndrome, which is not a syndrome, but a designation that indicates an autopsy was unable to determine a cause of death, Kelly said.

“The vast majority of the deaths that are reviewed relate to an unsafe sleep environment,” said Kelly, who serves on the state fatality review committee with Duncan. “Last month, we reviewed four deaths; all four were unsafe sleep environments.”

Although there are numerous unsafe sleeping conditions for babies, it’s bed-sharing that is the most controversial. The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly advises against the practice, recommending instead that parents “room share” by placing the child in an approved crib or similar surface by their bed.

“There is evidence that this arrangement decreases the risk of SIDS by as much as 50 percent and is safer than bed-sharing or solitary sleeping (when the infant is in a separate room),” the academy says in the journal Pediatrics. “In addition, this arrangement is most likely to prevent suffocation, strangulation, and entrapment, which may occur when the infant is sleeping in the adult bed.”

But James McKenna, a professor, anthropologist and director of the Mother-Baby Sleep Lab at the University of Notre Dame, disagrees on the one-size-fits-all recommendation against bed-sharing. Mothers and babies are wired to bed-share, especially if the mother is breast-feeding, so the better solution is to thoroughly educate parents about safe and proper ways to do it — and make sure they know when it’s unsafe, such as when they’ve been drinking or using drugs, or when their mattress doesn’t fit property into the frame.

“They, us, we — humans — are going to do it because it’s biologically compelling,” he said. “Babies are satisfied and settled, babies and mothers get more sleep, and mothers and fathers like making their babies happy,” McKenna said. “Parents know and are able to judge what really applies to them, and what really doesn’t, and part of it is really what resonates with their own particular experiences, not what some external authority says.”

Duncan, however, doesn’t think it’s worth taking chances.

“What if you’re exhausted, as many parents are, and you sleep just a little too deeply, and you move over just a little too much? Or your mattress is just a little too deep, or your baby moves under the blanket too far, or under the pillow?” she said.

“Is it worth the risk? It’s an act of love, but when you wake up and the child is dead, it’s catastrophic to everyone.”

Colorado Springs Police Lt. Howard Black had been in his new post with the Special Victims Section for less than a year when he came to a grim realization: Of the seven infants who died in that short time span last year, it appeared that at least two, and perhaps two more, had been sleeping in bed with their parents.

“Think of the trauma,” Black said. “I can’t even comprehend how that parent copes. What we’re talking about is parents who are well-intentioned; good parents wanting to be close to their kiddos.”

Not every baby who sleeps with his parents’ in their bed dies, of course, but there have been enough “bed-sharing” deaths throughout the U.S. over the years to spark various public safety campaigns about the practice. This month, Weld County officials launched a “Safe Sleep” initiative after four babies died in 2012 while sleeping in their parents’ bed.

In 2011, Milwaukee officials created an ad campaign in the aftermath of nine infant deaths caused by unsafe sleeping conditions. 

The ad depicts a baby in an adult bed with a butcher knife next to him. “Your baby sleeping with you can be just as dangerous,” the ad said.

It’s not just bed-sharing that can endanger a baby. Public safety campaigns extend to other potentially lethal “unsafe sleeping environments,” such as a crib filled with pillows, stuffed animals and other soft items that can suffocate a baby too tiny to extricate itself. Putting a baby to sleep on its belly or on a sofa or soft armchair are other hazards.

“We call them ‘killer couches,’” said Sally Duncan, trauma outreach and injury prevention specialist for Memorial Hospital, and a member of the Colorado SIDS Fatality Review Committee. “People put a child to sleep on a couch or chair, because they think the baby will stay exactly how they put them. But they turn, and put their face again a surface.”

Last year, the El Paso County Coroner’s Office investigated 16 deaths of babies one day old to 1-year-old. Six occurred in unsafe sleeping environments, including one child who was crushed in the parents’ bed, and another who suffocated after being placed face-down on an adult pillow in its crib, said Dr. Leon Kelly, deputy chief medical examiner for the El Paso County Coroner’s Office.

“The reality is, a kid should be laid down on his back in a crib with nothing else in it,” Kelly said.
Statewide, from 2007 through 2011, there were 308 sleep-related infant deaths — more than the number of Colorado children who died from abuse and neglect in the same period. Not all were from unsafe sleeping conditions, and some are attributed to SIDS — sudden infant death syndrome, which is not a syndrome, but a designation that indicates an autopsy was unable to determine a cause of death, Kelly said.

“The vast majority of the deaths that are reviewed relate to an unsafe sleep environment,” said Kelly, who serves on the state fatality review committee with Duncan. “Last month, we reviewed four deaths; all four were unsafe sleep environments.”

Although there are numerous unsafe sleeping conditions for babies, it’s bed-sharing that is the most controversial. The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly advises against the practice, recommending instead that parents “room share” by placing the child in an approved crib or similar surface by their bed.

“There is evidence that this arrangement decreases the risk of SIDS by as much as 50 percent and is safer than bed-sharing or solitary sleeping (when the infant is in a separate room),” the academy says in the journal Pediatrics. “In addition, this arrangement is most likely to prevent suffocation, strangulation, and entrapment, which may occur when the infant is sleeping in the adult bed.”

But James McKenna, a professor, anthropologist and director of the Mother-Baby Sleep Lab at the University of Notre Dame, disagrees on the one-size-fits-all recommendation against bed-sharing. Mothers and babies are wired to bed-share, especially if the mother is breast-feeding, so the better solution is to thoroughly educate parents about safe and proper ways to do it — and make sure they know when it’s unsafe, such as when they’ve been drinking or using drugs, or when their mattress doesn’t fit property into the frame.

“They, us, we — humans — are going to do it because it’s biologically compelling,” he said.

“Babies are satisfied and settled, babies and mothers get more sleep, and mothers and fathers like making their babies happy,” McKenna said. “Parents know and are able to judge what really applies to them, and what really doesn’t, and part of it is really what resonates with their own particular experiences, not what some external authority says.”

Duncan, however, doesn’t think it’s worth taking chances.

“What if you’re exhausted, as many parents are, and you sleep just a little too deeply, and you move over just a little too much? Or your mattress is just a little too deep, or your baby moves under the blanket too far, or under the pillow?” she said.

 “Is it worth the risk? It’s an act of love, but when you wake up and the child is dead, it’s catastrophic to everyone.”

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