Sleeping with an infant can turn into a death sentence for the baby.
So can placing the infant on a sofa or soft mattress for a nap.
Bundling babies in blankets also has the potential to kill.
Defenseless infants are just that vulnerable when it comes to breathing.
Six babies died in Erie County during January when they were either smothered by a sleeping adult who rolled on top of them or suffocated when a blanket or other object covered their airways.
With that as a back drop, the tips shared at a safe sleeping class taught last week in Buffalo to expectant and new mothers took on all the more meaning.
Stephanie and Mario Young, the parents of four children with another on the way, attended because they wanted to clear up conflicting information they had heard on what position is safest when placing a baby in its bed.
“I’ve been told you can’t lay a baby down in each of these ways – on the back, side or stomach, and given reasons why not,” Mario Young said.
Babies should always be placed on their backs, not their stomachs, on a firm mattress in a crib or bassinet that has a tightly fitted sheet, class instructor Kaitlin Price said, adding that the sleeping area should be free of clutter, including toys and baby bottles.
“Decorate the room if you want to show others you care about your baby,” she said.
The class at Gerard Place, the site of a former Catholic parish transformed into a community service organization in Bailey-Delavan, occurred just a couple weeks after Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale R. Burstein announced the high number of unsafe sleeping deaths, which far outpaced last year’s total of eight.
“The record-breaking cold in Erie County may have led to an increase in infants sleeping with parents or having blankets placed over them while sleeping in an effort to keep them warn,” Burstein said, adding that area doctors, upset at the deaths, are also spreading the word in promoting safe sleeping conditions.
“Since we first announced the six deaths, there have been no other unsafe sleeping deaths,” Burstein said.
Common sense also plays a role, according to David Zapfel, executive director of Gerard Place.
Instead of blankets, he said, the infant should be inside a warm sleeper garment such as a sleep sack. If those are not available, Price said a blanket can be used but should be placed no higher than the baby’s chest and tucked in at the base of the mattress to prevent the infant from becoming entangled and possibly suffocating.
And it isn’t only blankets or a parent rolling on top of the baby that can cause death. Cushioned bumpers in a crib can also kill, Price said, drawing surprise from expectant mother Skylar Adams.
“My doctor gave me a bumper for the crib,” Adams said.
Though bumpers are intended to prevent babies from becoming caught in crib rails, Price explained, it is unlikely infants would even come in contact with the slats if they are placed on their backs in the center of the mattress. Most newer cribs, she added, are designed so that the gap between each rail is narrow.
But if a baby somehow ended up pressed against the cushioned bumper, Price said, “the newborn would lack the strength to roll away and could suffocate.”
As for sofas and couches, more-developed babies can roll off them and suffer injuries or end up against a cushion, blocking them from breathing.
Adams, who is expecting her first child in mid-March, wanted to know when it would be safe for an infant to sleep with a parent or on a couch.
The answer was never.
“With the proper sleeping equipment, there is no need to take a risk,” Zapfel said.
Adams also asked when would it be safe to allow babies to sleep on their stomachs.
Generally at 6 months of age, Price said, but she added that it depends on when the babies are able to raise their heads and roll over. She also recommended consulting the family pediatrician for an answer to that question.
In highlighting just how easily a parent sharing the same bed with a newborn could end the baby’s life, Price said the outstretching of a sleeping adult’s arm could block the baby’s air passages.
“A baby could die in a matter of seconds,” she said.
The only form of co-sleeping that is safe, according to Price, is when the baby is in the same room as the parents but in a crib or bassinet.
Expectant moms also wondered if placing their babies on their backs made them more likely to choke if they regurgitated.
The wind pipe, Price said, is above the esophagus, making choking highly unlikely.
Diana Ball, who had her first child two weeks ago, shared a suggestion she learned at a parenting class.
“I was told that if you burp the baby after feeding it, spitting up is less likely,” Ball said.
Addressing concern that the back of an infant’s soft skull might flatten or that hair loss could result from infants sleeping on their backs, Price said that may happen, but “it is only temporary.”