Be a life saver for your baby

  • Published
  • By Joyce Atlee
  • Family Advocacy Outreach Manger
Babies -- they're cute, they're innocent, they're sweet... When parents stand watching their new baby sleeping, it creates a memory that lasts a lifetime. No one wants to think about the possibility of ever standing over their baby's casket, but that could become a grim reality unless parents take precautions to ensure their infant sleeps safely. Too many parents either aren't aware of or ignore guidelines meant to protect infants and babies. Each year, hundreds of babies are put to bed improperly and never wake up.

First, babies should always be placed on their back to sleep. Since the "Back to Sleep" campaign started in 1992, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and Sudden Unexpected Infant Death rates have declined. But "SIDS remains the third-leading cause of infant mortality and the leading cause of post neonatal mortality" (the period covering 28 days to one year of age).

Next, babies should sleep alone. The American Academy of Pediatrics Guidelines for Reducing the Risk of SIDS recommends "room-sharing without bed-sharing," that is, having the infant sleep in the parents' room but on a separate sleep surface close to the parents' bed. AAP states that "there is evidence that this arrangement decreases the risk of SIDS by as much as 50 percent." It is also likely to decrease suffocation, strangulation and entrapment. Even other children can pose a deadly hazard as illustrated by a recent news story about the baby who died while sleeping with his slightly older sister. Of the 79 sleep-related deaths reviewed in 2010 by the Oklahoma Child Death Review Board, 34 were sleeping with adults or older siblings. AAP also recommends against using devices which are supposed to make bed-sharing safer, as there is no evidence that they are effective.

AAP said that infants can be brought into the adult bed for breastfeeding and comforting, but should then be returned to their own bed. However, infants should not be brought to the bed if anyone is very tired or a heavy sleeper; is extremely overweight; is a smoker; has been drinking; or has taken medications (illegal, prescribed or over-the-counter) that could make them sleepy.

The baby's bed itself is also a critical factor. Cribs (primarily older models) are responsible for about 35 infant deaths each year. Use a new crib meeting the 2011 federal requirements. Used cribs may have been designed poorly, might have missing parts, could be incorrectly assembled or might just be worn out. Cribs should also meet safety standards of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, Juvenile Product Manufacturers Association and the ASTM International (formerly the American Society for Testing and Materials), including those for slat spacing (no farther apart than 2 3/8 inches), and snugly fitting firm mattresses.

Parents who just cannot avoid using an older crib need to ensure that there have been no recalls on the crib model. CPSC has recalled more than 11 million dangerous cribs since 2007. Never use a drop-side crib. These cribs have been associated with at least 32 infant suffocation and strangulation deaths since 2000.

Make sure that all of the crib hardware is intact and that the assembly instructions are available. There should be no cutouts in the headboard or footboard and no finials that the infant's clothing could get caught on. Make sure that the mattress fits tightly against the headboard and that the crib is at least 2 feet away from the wall and out of reach of any cords from window coverings or other strangulation hazards. In recent years, CPSC has recalled more than 5 million window coverings, including Roman shades, roller and roll-up blinds, vertical and horizontal blinds. About once a month, a child between 7 months and 10 years old dies from window cord strangulation and another child suffers a near strangulation.

The only thing soft in the baby's crib should be the baby! A CPSC study found that an estimated 30 percent of the 6,000 babies who die of SIDS each year may have suffocated to death when placed on top of comforters, sheepskins and other soft products. There should be no pillows, duvets, stuffed toys or crib bumpers, either. Use a fitted sheet that fits tightly around the mattress. Never put a baby on an adult bed, youth bed, waterbed, sofa, soft mattress, air mattress, beanbag, chair, pillow or any other soft surface to sleep.

Do not overheat or overdress a baby. Make sure your baby's head and face remain uncovered during sleep. Keep the room temperature comfortable for a lightly clothed adult (68° to 72°). The baby should be in a one-piece sleeper with nothing over him. If it's cold, layer the baby's clothing (for example, add a T-shirt and socks under a sleeper). If absolutely necessary, use only a light blanket and place the baby with his feet at the foot of the bed. Tuck the blanket around the crib mattress, reaching only as far up as the baby's chest.

Be leery of certain "safety" products. So-called "sleep positioners" have caused at least 13 infant deaths since 1997, according to the CPSC. The Food and Drug Administration has never cleared an infant sleep positioner to prevent or reduce the risk of SIDS. Also, at least seven babies have strangled in the cords from baby monitors since 2002. The CPSC warns parents and caregivers that cords on baby audio, video and movement monitors can present a strangulation hazard to infants and toddlers when placed too close to cribs. Cords should be at least 3 feet away from any part of the crib, bassinet, play yard or other safe sleep environment.

Make the CPSC website -- http://www.cpsc.gov/ -- the go-to source of information on recalls and unsafe products. Check it at least weekly to keep up to date on safety information. Remember, the price of parenting is eternal vigilance.