Keep sleeping babies safe

Unsafe sleep environments account for nearly all unexpected infant deaths in Minnesota

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Minnesota’s departments of health and human services are calling for no co-sleeping with infants and for infants to sleep without blankets and pillows as data mounts that unsafe sleep environments account for nearly all unexpected infant deaths in Minnesota.

A Minnesota Department of Health analysis of sudden unexpected infant deaths (SUIDs) in 2014 found that of the 56 babies who died suddenly and unexpectedly, 52 were in an unsafe sleep environment.

About half of the babies were sharing a sleep surface, such as a bed or sofa or recliner, with another person. The other half were in an unsafe sleep position, such as being placed on their side or tummy, had loose objects around them such as pillows or blankets, or were not placed on a firm surface to sleep such as a crib mattress.

Parents, families, hospitals and childcare providers can help reduce the risk of sleep-related infant deaths by following safe sleep practices. “Data has clarified our message to parents and improved our understanding of what babies need to sleep safely,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Ed Ehlinger.

“We can save dozens of infants a year by supporting communities, retailers, parents, grandparents, and caregivers in their efforts to have infants sleep alone on their backs in safety-approved cribs free of pillows and blankets.”

To decrease risk of suffocation, dress babies for the temperature and do not cover them with a blanket. Soft items such as blankets, pillows, crib bumpers and toys in the crib pose a hazard.

It is also important for the infant to sleep separately from other sleeping children and adults, since research has found that this is hazardous. A safe sleeping environment during naptime is just as important as it is during nighttime sleeping. Beds and other places such as a couch or recliner can be dangerous for infants.

“These prevention measures save lives. Since we’ve increased training in safe sleep practices for childcare providers, Minnesota has seen a dramatic decrease in infant deaths in licensed child care,” said DHS Inspector General Jerry Kerber. “In 2013, that number fell to three infant deaths in family child care and in 2014 there was one infant death — which is still one too many.”

SUIDs are a subset of infant deaths that occur suddenly and unexpectedly before age one from causes that are not immediately obvious, but which require a thorough investigation, including an autopsy to determine the cause and manner of death. The three most widely reported types of SUIDs in the U.S. include accidental suffocation and strangulation in bed (ASSB), unknown causes, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Research indicates that infant mortality outcomes are strongly influenced by social and economic factors including income, education, and housing. The data suggests that Minnesota’s health and racial inequities are preventing some babies from having the opportunities for a healthy start that includes a safe sleeping environment.

In Minnesota, the rate for sudden unexpected infant deaths is twice as high for African American babies as for White babies. It is four times as high for American Indian babies as for White babies.

Everyone who cares for babies can engage in safe sleep practices by placing infants on their backs in a safety-approved crib that is free of blankets, pillows, bumper pads, stuffed animals and toys, in a smoke-free environment. Cribs made and sold after June 28, 2011 must meet federal requirements for crib safety. If you are using an older crib, evaluate its safety.


— Information provided by the Minnesota Department of Health.