Sudden Rise in Accidental Infant Deaths


From the Office of the Commissioner of Health, Dr. Gale Burstein

Date January 29, 2014

CONTACT: Mary C. St. Mary/Mary.StMary@Erie.Gov

Phone: 716.858.4941/ Mobile: 716.253.3925

Sudden Rise in Accidental Infant Deaths

Infants “Cosleeping” with Parents a Dangerous Practice

ERIE COUNTY, NY— Three infant deaths have occurred in the past week due to unsafe sleeping arrangements. This brings the total of infant deaths attributable to an unsafe sleep environment to six for this month alone while a total of 8 deaths due to similar causes were recorded in 2013. The record-breaking cold in Erie County this month 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 warm. 

“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” states Dr. Gale Burstein, Erie County Commissioner of Health (“ECDOH”).  “In the six deaths this January, three of the infants died while in an adult’s bed with two of those 3 babies found face down. Two of the other 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.”

“Cosleeping” or bed sharing means an infant and one or more other persons sleeps together on any surface, not necessarily a bed. Other unsafe sleeping practices include:

  • placing an infant to sleep on soft bedding or surfaces such as a couch or armchair;
  • sleeping with a person who is under the influence of alcohol or drugs (including legal, illegal, prescription, and over-the-counter drugs), or who is overly exhausted, increasing the likelihood that the person will not wake  up during a dangerous situation (for example, rolling over on the infant); and
  • sharing the bed with a person who is obese, thus increasing the danger of an infant being smothered by the person’s body.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) warns parents not to place their infants to sleep in adult beds, stating that the practice puts babies at risk of suffocation and strangulation. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) agrees as stated in their publication “SIDS and Other Sleep-Related Infant Deaths: Expansion of Recommendations for a Safe Infant Sleeping Environment; Task Force on Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.” The recommendations described in this report include infants sleeping on their back, using a firm sleep surface, to breastfeed, room-sharing without bed-sharing, routine immunizations, consideration of a pacifier, and avoidance of soft bedding, overheating, and exposure to tobacco smoke, alcohol, and illicit drugs. 

Burstein concluded: “These are heartbreaking accidents. 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.”

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