Deadly routine: bedtime dangers for babies

ST. JOSEPH COUNTY, Indiana (WNDU) — October is Safe Sleep Awareness Month, and health experts want you to stop a dangerous routine: sleeping with your baby. This year alone, St. Joseph County has seen an alarming number of sleep-related infant deaths. Eight infants have been lost to what health officials say is largely preventable. The babies died in an unsafe sleeping environment.

Unfortunately we have been here before. In 2017, there were 11 sleep-related infant deaths in St. Joseph County.

More than 80 percent of infants who died from sleep-related deaths in St. Joseph County were either surrounded or covered by pillows and blankets, or propped up on pillows or boppies.(WNDU)

Among them? Small four week old trip.

“She had very large brown eyes. Her eyes were really big. She would be four in November,” said Journey’s mother, who wished to remain anonymous but agreed to share her story as a warning to parents and carers.

The trip was a little bundle of joy.

“Very small. She was a very small baby. I am very grateful to have many pictures of her,” Journey’s mother said.

Four weeks after the birth, Journey’s mother went back to work. She admits she was exhausted.

“I got up at three in the morning to go to work at five,” Journey’s mother explained. “I think I put a lot of pressure on myself by going to work early.”

But as a single mother, she had to support her four children.

“That night I took care of her, she fell asleep and I put her in her cradle. And she started moving and making a little fuss like she wanted to be with mom again,” Journey’s mom said.

And so she brought Journey to bed with her to breastfeed. She says she knows better but has done it before with no problem.

“Yes, I took a chance on Sunday night and she was fine. So on Monday I said, ‘Travel, mommy needs to get some sleep.’ So I put her back on my chest and I lay in bed and I fell asleep and woke up a few hours later to find she wasn’t breathing,” Journey’s mother said.

The size of your baby's airways, which bring oxygen to his lungs, is smaller than most straws.
The size of your baby’s airways, which bring oxygen to his lungs, is smaller than most straws.(WNDU)

“When one of these deaths occurs, we investigate and look at the circumstances and everything that happened,” said Sally Dixon, a registered nurse and coordinator of maternal and infant health initiatives at the St. Joseph County Health Department. She is concerned about the recent increase in child mortality.

“This is the highest number of sleep-related deaths since 2017,” Dixon said.

It is their job to review every SIDS in the county.

“In the eight years that we’ve been doing this, we’ve never had an infant death where a baby was euthanized with the entire ABC,” Dixon said.

The ABC of safe baby sleep: Alone. on her back. And in a manger. Every nap. Each night. every time

Since 2015, no baby who died of a sleep-related sudden death in St. Joseph County has been...
Since 2015, not a baby who died of a sleep-related sudden death in St. Joseph County has been euthanized using all the ABCs of safe sleep.(WNDU)

“In every case that has happened in our community over the past eight years, there has always been one or more unsafe sleep factors,” Dixon said.

The biggest problem? Bedding – including pillows and blankets, often in a shared adult bed.

“Babies under four months are at higher risk of this type of death. If something is blocking their breathing, they won’t be able to turn their heads or move a blanket out of the way like we would. They don’t have that ability yet, they’re developing it,” Dixon explained.

There are other important factors that put infants at greater risk, including parents’ smoking, alcohol or drug use. And it’s not just illegal drugs.

“Even a prescription drug that makes you sleepy. Anything that makes you less alert is less likely to wake you up. Sleeping more soundly can increase the risk,” Dixon said.

The rate of sleep-related deaths among infants exposed to tobacco during pregnancy or while pregnant...
The rate of sleep-related deaths in infants exposed to tobacco during pregnancy or at home was four times higher than in infants not exposed to tobacco.(WNDU)

Across the country and here at home, the infant mortality rate is higher for communities of color.

“What’s important is that it’s not a cultural issue, it’s a systemic issue,” said Mahogany Maternity’s Kelli Brien. Brien is a doula, maternal health specialist and patient advocate in St. Joseph County.

“We have to say, ‘Stop! There is a problem. We’re dying,” Brien said. “Right now black and brown communities are suffering from the unaddressed issues. How deserted. Go back to work too early. Not having the community. Having the stigma of mental health. Not being able to find the help they need.”

“Don’t be afraid to ask for help. That’s what I’ve learned – don’t be afraid to ask for help. There is help out there,” said Sierra Kelly, mother of two. Kelly has help at home with her two little ones. dream is the baby. Sierra learned safe sleeping techniques in the hospital and practices them every day.

“She falls asleep and I just put her on her back in the pack and play – nothing with her in her crib. No blankets or anything like that. She’s wearing pajamas so it’s fine,” Kelly said.

More than 80 percent of families had a suitable place to sleep for their baby, such as a cot or...
More than 80 percent of families had a suitable place to sleep for their baby at home, such as a cot or a pack ‘n’ play.(WNDU)

“We’re working very hard on clarification,” said WIC Director Sue Taylor. Taylor has been training new moms and dads in St. Joseph County for over 30 years. She says she’s devastated to see the numbers rising again.

Her office distributes cardboard baby boxes; a simple but safe place for a newborn. There is help for low-income families through BABE vouchers.

According to Taylor, all families have access to safe sleeping places.

“Because you can go to BABE and get a pack and play and you can go and get a crib with BABE vouchers. That’s why we provide sleeping places for babies, so it’s really heartbreaking when you hear about these babies just not making it. But they’re not in their safe place to sleep,” Taylor said.

And what’s frustrating for health officials is that there are parents who make a conscious choice to co-sleep with their infants.

“We know from surveys and national reports that more and more people are sharing beds with their babies. opt for it. That’s not what we recommend,” Dixon said.

Journey’s mother is haunted by the fact that she knew the risks.

“I think that’s the hardest thing I can live with right now, that I knew better,” Journey’s mother said.

She gave birth to a little boy who is now three years old.

“He slept in a cradle. Nothing around him. Not even a blanket,” Journey’s mother said. “After the trauma with Journey, I think it made me even more scared of him. I just took it a lot more seriously.”

Your baby only breathes through his nose until he is four to six months old.
Your baby only breathes through his nose until he is four to six months old.(WNDU)

Your message for mothers with newborns?

“Just to have that plan and identify that support system. Use this. Just speak up for help when you need it. Never fall asleep with your baby and don’t even risk it because it could be the last, the last time. You can’t take that back,” Journey’s mother said.

The St. Joseph County Health Department has launched a new awareness campaign called #RoomToBreathe, reminding parents to remove all pillows, blankets, bumpers and toys from an infant’s sleeping area.

Remember that there is help for new parents. Click here for resources.

Click here for more information on Kelli Brien and Mahogany Maternity.

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