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Six local deaths prompt warning about sleeping with infants

Six infants have died this month – three in just the past week – in Erie County because of unsafe sleeping arrangements, prompting Erie County Health Commissioner Gale R. Burstein to warn adults against sleeping with their infants and placing too many blankets on the babies.

For all of 2013, she said, there were eight deaths recorded of infants who died in similar situations.

“Parents and caregivers need to be aware of the tremendous risks of having an infant sleep with another individual or in a face-down or prone position,” Burstein said.

The latest deaths involved three infants who were in an adult’s bed; two of those three babies were found face down, according to Burstein. Two of the other January deaths occurred when infants suffocated in cribs that contained an excessive amount of blankets.

“Infants cannot roll over or uncover blankets from their face, placing them at great risk of suffocation,” Burstein said.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that a baby sleep in the same room as the parents, but not in the same bed. Even though the rate of SIDS, or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, has declined, the organization noted that sleep-related deaths from other causes, such as suffocation, have increased.

“You just shouldn’t take the chance,” said Lynn Stroehlein, who manages the childbirth education department at Women & Children’s Hospital.

New mothers at the hospital routinely receive advice not to sleep with their newborns, she said. One of the main reasons is that women are often exhausted after childbirth and may not be as alert to a potential danger as they need to be if their infant is in bed with them, Stroehlein warned.

“Put the baby in a bassinet next to you if want them near,” she said. “It’s just safer.”

Burstein suggested that parents or caretakers avoid:

• Placing an infant to sleep on soft bedding or surfaces such as a couch or armchair.

• Having an infant sleep with a person who is under the influence of alcohol or drugs, including legal or illegal prescription medications and over-the-counter drugs.

• Placing an infant in sleeping situations with obese individuals whose bodies could smother the child.

Physically exhausted individuals also represent a threat, Burstein said, because of the increased likelihood the person will fail to awaken during a dangerous situation, such as rolling over on the baby.

“These are heartbreaking accidents,” she said. “We hope by bringing these tragedies to the attention of Erie County parents and caregivers that they will heed our recommendations and keep their infants safe.”

The percentage of infants sleeping with an adult doubled in the United States from 1993 to 2010, with higher rates among African-Americans and Hispanics, according to a survey of nearly 19,000 adults last year in JAMA Pediatrics.

A study published last year in the journal BMJ Open concluded that sharing a bed with infants increased their risk of dying from SIDS by five times. SIDS also occurs more frequently during the winter.

News Medical Reporter Henry Davis contributed to this report. email: