Recently, there have been a lot of TV programs and newspaper stories discussing infant safe sleep, especially the debate about co-sleeping. Despite much research, we still aren’t sure why some babies die during co-sleeping and others don’t. Every infant death is tragic and involves a unique set of circumstances.
Here’s what we do know: between 2005 and 2008, 88 babies in the Milwaukee area died from accidental overlay, suffocation or sudden infant death syndrome. These cases involved boys and girls of all socioeconomic classes and races – 37 percent were Hispanic, 30 percent white and 18 percent black. The most common risk factor was an unsafe sleep environment including inappropriate bedding (pillows, quilts or bumpers) in about 80 percent of cases and co-sleeping with an adult in 70 percent of cases. Only a minority of cases (less than 20 percent) involved a parent who was under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
While we don’t know all the factors that make co-sleeping dangerous, we are sure that it’s safer not to do it.
Here at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, we follow the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics and encourage you to follow the ABCs of safe sleep:
A: Alone. Babies should not share a sleep surface with anyone or anything. No adults or other children should sleep with a baby. The crib should be empty without toys, bumper pads, wipes or extra blankets. This might look cold and empty to you and a lot different from the plush and filled cribs in the stores or magazines, but it’s safest and your baby will be sleeping and won’t even notice.
B: Back. Deaths due to SIDS have been cut in half since we began recommending all babies be put on their backs to sleep. This position keeps the baby’s face clear, allows him or her to breathe freely, helps regulate breathing and prevents choking if he or she spits up during the night. When you’re on your back, your windpipe is higher than your esophagus, so food and fluid run back into your stomach and not down to your lungs. Remember to let your baby get plenty of “tummy time” when you’re playing with him or her. This will help your baby’s arms and neck grow strong and help his or her head keep a round shape.
C: Crib. Babies don’t need a lot of space, but need their space to be their own. Babies should sleep on a firm, flat surface like an infant crib mattress or Pack ’n Play. Adult mattresses and couches are too soft and are a suffocation risk. If you want to be close to your baby throughout the night, put your crib, bassinet or Pack ’n Play in your bedroom so you can share a room, not a bed.
Finally, remember that one of the best ways to take care of your baby is to take care of yourself. Make sure you get plenty of sleep and exercise and don’t use alcohol or drugs when you’re caring for a child. Spend quality time with your baby, including snuggling and breastfeeding while you’re awake. Then put your child into a protected environment.
Practicing safe sleep is a simple, yet highly effective way to keep your baby safe and healthy. Visit www.chw.org/safesleep to learn more.
~ Jason Jarzembowski, MD, PhD, program director of perinatal pathology, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin