Co-sleeping proves dangerous for infants

Thursday, March 8, 2012

In an article in the Banner Graphic on Feb. 18, 2012, it was reported that in Muncie, Delaware County, four healthy infants had died in the past year. The findings in Delaware County of the Coroner and the Department of Family and Children all pointed to the parents sharing the same sleeping space as their infant as the cause of the fatality.

As in Muncie, Greencastle, Putnam County has also suffered tragic deaths from co-sleeping. It happens when the child occupying the same bed as the parent, is accidentally suffocated beneath a parent who rolls over in his or her sleep. The child becomes pinned beneath the parent, or between pillows or covers, or the wall, and in only two or three minutes, the infant is dead.

The death of an infant is a terrible event for a whole community. Parents and relatives are devastated. All the hopes and dreams of the nine months of waiting and preparation for this new life seem useless. The grief and the guilt are overwhelming.

Emergency workers and first-responders feel a great deal of sadness when they are not able to revive what looks to be a healthy infant. Police have to be called to investigate, as it is the law in Indiana if there is a sudden, unexpected, unexplained death of a child. Painful questions have to be asked. An autopsy has to be performed to ascertain the cause of death. The Department of Family and Children must call a Child Fatality Review Team meeting to examine all the facts and to renew the commitment to prevent this from happening again.

As Putnam County Prosecutor Tim Bookwalter would tell you, it is possible to pursue felony charges of neglect on the parents or caretakers, especially if the parent is intoxicated or under the influence of an illegal substance. Even if it is accidental, it is preventable. Hence this article.

Some people wrongly believe that it promotes breast-feeding and bonding between parents and children. However, because parents do fall asleep and because it takes such a small amount of time for an infant to suffocate from lack of oxygen, it is too dangerous to risk. A separate, but close-by sleeping arrangement is recommended. Move the crib or bassinet into the parents' bedroom, so that as the mother gets sleepy, she can easily put the infant back in its own sleeping environment. "Close-by" means the mother can nurse the infant, comfort and soothe, and return the baby to his/her own crib/bed when the parent is ready to fall asleep. Infants should not bed-share with other children, either.

Since 1992, the motto of the American Academy of Pediatrics has been "Back to Sleep." When I was raising my children 55 years ago, we always put babies to sleep on their tummies, but that is no longer the advice! Placing infants on their back lowers the risk of Sudden Infant Death and is the preferred sleep position for new infants. "Back to Sleep!" Side sleep is not stable enough as a baby can roll over too easily. New parents usually receive warnings about the dangers of co-sleeping before they leave the hospital. New pamphlets have been ordered for this purpose.

We can do a better job of raising our infants to a happy, healthy life after they are babies!

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