The image that went viral last month of rapper Macklemore sleeping with his infant daughter next to him made Dr. Susan Pollack cringe.
Pollack is a University of Kentucky pediatrician and manager of the Pediatric and Adolescent Injury Prevention Program at the Kentucky Injury Prevention and Research Center. Though some parents think the only way for their infant to be safe is to be in their arms or in their beds that is simply not true, she said.
And Kentucky health officials concur. Last month the state Department of Public Health launched the Safe Sleep Campaign designed to educate the public on the ABCs of safe sleeping and to make sure infants sleep safely by sleeping alone, sleeping on their back, and sleeping in a clean crib or bassinet.
Their statistics bear out their concerns: In Kentucky, the infant mortality rate is higher than the national average. Every five days a baby dies with a sleep-related risk factor in Kentucky.
In 2013, 9 out of 10 sudden unexpected infant deaths included at least one sleep-related risk factor. The most common sleep-related risk factors were babies placed on unsafe sleep surfaces like couches, recliners, or an adult bed, and over half of the sleep-related deaths in 2013 in Kentucky had bed-sharing documented.
Pollack thinks it is important to start the conversation of safe-sleep because as a member of the Child Fatality Review Committee she continually hears of such cases where infants have died because of unsafe sleep.
She wants readers to know that the mission is not just to advocate a sterile environment for children, but "if we could spare one family for loss of a child, it would be similarly worthwhile."
Dwayne Ellison and his wife Christina are one such family. The couple lost their 3-month-old baby boy to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Soon after, they founded the Finley Foundation in his memory to promote awareness of safe sleeping practices.
"There aren't very many people left that still argue that seat belts are a waste of time and that smoking isn't dangerous," said Dwayne Ellison, referring to the importance of educating people on safe sleep for infants and implementing equal safety standards as we would for other daily activities.
According to the 2014 Child Fatality and Near Fatality Review Panel, nearly 4,000 infants die "suddenly and unexpectedly" every year in the U.S. These deaths are categorized as Sudden Unexpected Infant Deaths. For many of them, the cause of death is unknown, but most occur while the infant is sleeping in an unsafe sleeping environment.
The most common SUIDs are reported as one of three types: Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, unknown cause, and accidental suffocation and strangulation in bed.
SUID can be caused by many factors, most of which can be prevented. They include such things as suffocation, which — for the past 20 years in Kentucky — has been the leading cause of injury-related deaths in infants under the age of 1.
Sleep-related risk factors increase when infants are placed on unsafe sleeping surfaces such as couches, recliners, or an adult bed, according to the Safe Sleep website.
When asked about the overall improvement of sleep-related deaths in Kentucky compared to previous years, Pollack said that the numbers are improving, but that there still is a long way to go until all infant deaths can be stopped.
"One infant saved is worth it, we promise you," Ellison said. "It's important to know the facts and data."