Safe sleeping practices can save the lives of infants

Contributing ColumnistsOctober 13, 2013 

It is one of the most devastating events that can happen to a family, and in Kentucky it happens at a rate nearly double the rest of the United State: Suffocation is the leading injury-related cause of death in infants in Kentucky, but it can be prevented by following safe sleeping practices.

Although Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is an unexplained death of an infant, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now recommends a broader category referred to as Sudden Unexpected Infant Death (SUID) which includes infant deaths that after investigation are determined to be suffocation or causes from an unsafe sleeping environment.

Even though about half of infant deaths in the SUID category are attributed to classic SIDS — meaning the sudden death cannot be explained — a safe sleeping environment can reduce the number of infant deaths where suffocation is preventable.

A study by the Kentucky Maternal and Child Health team found that in nearly 88 percent of infant deaths due to SIDS, accidental suffocations or where the cause could not be determined, there was documentation of sleep-related risk factors.

"This means that in Kentucky, at least 8 out of 10 of these infant deaths might have been prevented if the infant was in a safe sleep environment — meaning sleeping alone, on their back, in a crib, without soft pillows, blankets or toys, and on a firm mattress," according to the report.

Characteristics of a sleep environment that can contribute to infant deaths include soft pillows, mattresses or mattress coverings in the crib, bed sharing or co-sleeping, use of an adult bed and couch sleeping.

Safe Sleeping Tips

■ Always place your baby on his or her back to sleep for naps and at night. ■ Place your baby on a firm sleep surface, such as a safety-approved crib mattress, covered by a fitted sheet.

■ Keep soft objects, toys, and loose bedding out of your baby's sleep area.

■ Swaddle infant snuggly, with blanket no higher than the chest at armpit level.

■ Limit items in the baby's sleep environment to prevent something from covering the baby's nose and mouth.

■ Be sure nothing is loose in the bed or hung over the sides/rails of the bed where the infant sleeps.

■ It is safest to avoid the use of bumper pads.

■ Do not allow smoking around your baby.

■ Keep your baby's sleep area close to, but separate from, where you and others sleep. No co-sleeping.

■ Prevent your baby's overheating during sleep by dressing baby in as few layers as possible to maintain thermoregulation.

Amy Brassfield and Lisa McGee are clinical nurse specialists at the Kentucky Children's Hospital.

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