Over a four-year period, more infants in Los Angeles County died from suffocation due to unsafe sleeping arrangements than all other accidental deaths of children under 14 combined, health officials said last week as they announced an education campaign aimed at preventing the deaths.
“It has become clear that the tragic deaths from unsafe sleeping practices are completely preventable,” according to Deanne Tilton Durfee, executive director of the Inter-Agency Council on Child Abuse and Neglect.
“Too often we hear from grieving parents, `No one ever told me how I could have avoided the death of my baby from unsafe sleep.’ Parents and caregivers must be made aware of these risks so that no one wakes up to this tragedy again.”
According to data from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, a baby suffocates while sleeping every five days in the county. Suffocation while bed-sharing and in unsafe sleep environments, such as a cluttered crib, is the leading preventable cause of infant death, county officials said.
From 2008-11, sleep suffocation resulted in more deaths of children under 14 than all other causes combined, including drowning, auto accidents and poisoning, according to the county.
“For the first three to four months of life, babies can only breathe through their noses and do not have the strength to lift their heads,” according to Jonathan Fielding, the county’s public health director. “When sleeping face down, or when their face is pressed against a soft object, they can suffocate easily. The preventable nature of these deaths highlights the need for public education on this issue.”
ICAN and First 5 LA announced a campaign called “Safe Sleep for Baby” that will include TV, radio and outdoor advertisements warning about the dangers of bed-sharing with infants and other suffocation hazards. The campaign will also offer safe-sleep training for county employees and community groups.
“This campaign will give moms and dads, grandparents and caregivers the knowledge they need to make sure their babies are sleeping safely,” according to Kim Belshe, executive director for First 5 LA.