By Chris Green
Aug 27, 2010
ROCKFORD — Every year in Winnebago County, four to six infants die as a result of sleeping with a parent, a practice the health care industry calls co-sleeping or co-bedding.And county health experts believe they have already seen their share this year.“We have had four infant deaths in Winnebago County,” said Carin Richter, a maternal child clinical nurse specialist at OSF Saint Anthony Medical Center. “These four deaths have occurred in the last three to four months. We believe it is related to co-bedding.”The primary cause of co-sleeping deaths is suffocation, when a sleeping parent rolls over onto an infant, when an infant is smothered in excessive bed covers or becomes trapped between mattress and headboard or mattress and wall.While the exact cause — such as sudden infant death syndrome, co-sleeping or some other cause — of each death has yet to be determined, what is certain among health care professionals is that while a SIDS death is unpredictable, a co-sleeping death is preventable.Many health care professionals ask parents to adhere to the ABCs of infant sleeping — Alone on my Back in a safe Crib — each and every time an infant is laid down.Next month, the Northern Illinois Regional Perinatal Advisory Council will host guest speaker Nancy Maruyama of the Illinois SIDS Alliance. Maruyama will address SIDS, co-sleeping and healthy sleeping environments with area health care professionals at Rockford Memorial Hospital.After Maruyama’s presentation, Richter is hopeful that all three hospitals as well as the Winnebago County Health Department can collaborate to produce a public service message.“We want the public to know what a safe sleeping environment is,” Richter said.Safe sleepingNew moms and dads, older siblings, grandparents, babysitters and anyone else who finds themselves in care of an infant are encouraged to practice the ABCs of sleep safety each and every time an infant is laid down.They are also advised to:* Never let a baby sleep with other babies, children, adults or pets.* Keep the crib or bassinet free of toys, stuffed animals or clothes.* Remove bumpers, pillows, quilts or comforters from the crib or bassinet.* Place the infant only on firm mattresses, not on an adult bed, water bed, couch or chair.“Two-inch pillow-top mattresses feel wonderful to adults, but they are not recommended as a safe sleeping surface for an infant,” Richter said.As for that handmade afghan or quilt from grandma, put it in the closet — at least until the infant is a toddler.“It is such a temptation to swaddle that baby in a nice, beautiful, fluffy blanket,” Richter said, “but that is not what you want to do. Usually all the baby needs is a sleeper and a light blanket.”Common groundWhile the ABCs and other safe sleeping tips may be sound and practical, co-sleeping has its advocates. And Richter acknowledges that many of the pros and cons of co-sleeping have been researched extensively and most are valid.“It is a controversial issue,” Richter said, “and that’s why we take the stance of whatever you do, please make yourself available to the education. What is a safe sleeping environment? That’s what we teach.”Advocates and opponents alike, however, agree that co-sleeping does not necessarily mean sharing the same bed. It can also mean sharing the same room and doing so safely.“Another option is the bassinet with the fold down side that attaches to a bed,” Richter said. “One side comes completely down, and it slides right up next to the bed and locks, so that the baby is still within arm’s reach of the mom. But he’s on a separate mattress.”Babies will scootIf you do bring an infant into your bed, health care professionals advise:* Do not smoke in bed with your infant — or anywhere around your infant.* Do not wear jewelry.* Remove siblings and pets from the bed.* Watch out for your baby scooting to the head of the bed and getting trapped between the mattress and headboard, or scooting to the foot of the bed and off the mattress.* Always alert your sleeping partner if you bring your baby into the bed.“If you have gone to a party and you’ve had several drinks, this is also not a time to sleep with your baby,” Richter said.