Friday, 22 April 2011

SIDS: Minnesota: Baby's own bed is best

 KEVIN DUCHSCHERE April 17, 2011
Hennepin County campaign seeks to prevent the preventable: accidental deaths caused by well-intentioned moms and dads.
Hennepin County has a message for new parents: No sleeping with the baby.
The county this month launched an information campaign aimed at reducing the number of infants who inadvertently suffocate in their sleep, smothered either by another person or by loose bedding.
Such deaths "are so preventable," said Deborah Huskins, an area director in the county's Human Services and Public Health Department. "It's just a matter of making sure the child's sleeping conditions are safe."
The county medical examiner's office found that three-fourths of 131 infant deaths in the county from 2005 to 2009 occurred when the child had been sleeping or put down to sleep.
At least half of those were accidental deaths, said Dr. Andrew Baker, the county's chief medical examiner.
In the past, many mysterious deaths labeled as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) probably were suffocations caused in part by the sleep environment, Baker said.
"In my office, there's been a movement away from using SIDS because it implies the death was natural and there was no known preventative aspect to it," he said. "But many of them are preventable and there are things that could be changed."
That's at the heart of the Hennepin campaign, which began with information tables and brochures at the county's Government Center and Century Plaza buildings in downtown Minneapolis. Public health nurses are explaining the importance of "safe sleep" to parents and in some cases providing portable cribs to families who need them.
The issue has been drawing attention elsewhere. Last year, the Milwaukee Health Department held a "Safe Sleep Summit," attended by more than 200 people, which sought to develop an effective message to deliver to the community. The Health Department produced an ad showing an adult-sized bed with a tombstone for its headboard. The inscription: "For too many babies last year, this was their final resting place."
Hennepin County's safe sleep campaign sprang from a volunteer committee that Huskins organized a couple years ago. It asked Baker's office to compile infant death numbers. The medical examiner found that the average age of babies who die accidentally is 3 to 4 months.
Autopsies alone don't tell how an infant died, Baker said, so investigators visit the scene of the death and talk to parents about how the child was positioned to determine what happened.
To protect babies, the main objective is ensuring that their airway remains open while they sleep. Huskins said the first rule is that a baby should always sleep alone.
Parents may want to snuggle with their infant in their bed, and mothers sometimes take a baby to bed for breast-feeding. That's OK as long as the baby is returned to the crib before anyone falls asleep, she said.
A baby sleeping in an adult bed could be smothered either by another person or by bedding. Blankets and a soft mattress also can be a problem in a crib, where the child should be clothed in a sleep sack or suit rather than tucked into bedding.
Sofas and couches also can be dangerous, Huskins said. An infant can easily roll to the low area between a seat and sofa back, wind up face down and suffocate.
The issue knows no socioeconomic divides and concerns all parents, Huskins said. "We're just trying to get the word out," she said.
Kevin Duchschere • 612-673-4455

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