The Florida Health Department is investigating three infant deaths in Escambia County, Florida, and are urging parents to avoid what they believe caused them. According to authorities, two infants died in January while co-sleeping. A third died during a sleep-related accident.
Co-sleeping, a common practice, occurs when parents share their beds at night with little ones — and now the sheriff's office has released a public service announcement to make sure all new parents know that this bedtime routine can be a serious threat.
According to WKRG 5, one of the infants died while sleeping in the parents' bed when the baby got tangled in the blanket. In another co-sleeping instance, a mom was breastfeeding her child in bed and reportedly fell asleep. When she woke up, her child was dead. In the third case, the baby died of suffocation after getting caught wedged between a stuffed animal and the crib.
In the PSA posted to the department's Facebook page, Escambia Chief Deputy Chip Simmons shared that the realities of sleeping-related fatalities even surprised him. "If you would have told me that we'd have this uptick — I would have thought it's a blanket thing or rolling over into someone. I would have never considered the breastfeeding, the oversized stuffed animals ... I would never have thought that that would be the cause of a baby death," he admitted.
Captain Dawn Janes, who also spoke in the video, warned parents that co-sleeping fatalities don't "always happen in a bed ... That would be a mistake to think that it only happens in a bed," she added.
"One parent fell asleep with a child in her arms, woke up with the child in the crook of the couch, between her and the couch cushions, and just something as simple as that," she explained. "You know, you're tired and the baby is sleeping and it's not developed enough to let you know, 'Hey, I'm in a bad spot. I can't move. I can't breathe.' It is just really sad when something like this happens," she said.
Jones also said that parents often use too many blankets when putting their babies to sleep, which infants can get caught in and even choke. Instead, she suggests that parents use a lightweight blanket to cover their baby.
"Even if it's cool, a baby is kind of hot anyways, so they really don't need all the extra blankets that we think they need," she advised. "So, we just have to be really careful, keep it simple, keep it light. That way if it does get over their face, it doesn't suffocate them. They can still move about and they don't get tangled."
Florida health officials also explained that many parents get tempted to co-sleep in the winter because it's cold and they want to keep their child warm. Florida Department of Health Director Dr. John Lanza spoke out about the issue in the PSA and warned parents that it's "never good to co-sleep," ABC 3 reported.
Co-sleeping is often described by doctors as the silent killer and there's good reason why. Lanza explained that as health authorities have witnessed, death from co-sleeping can happen to anyone, at any time, and in multiple ways. "We've seen cases of parents trying to feed the child on a sofa and they get wedged between the end of the sofa and the parent and they have a suffocation, especially if the parent is sleepy and tired and falls asleep," he explained.
"We've also had issues where the parent was drinking alcohol, on opioids, other medications. They passed out, [and] the child was suffocated."
But in the winter, the link between co-sleeping and infant death reportedly increases for a pretty common reason. During colder months, parents often think they'll be keeping their baby warm by letting them co-sleep with them, which is why there are more infant deaths from co-sleeping around this time of year.
"I can remember going back to 2000 in which one period of time over the three or four counties our medical examiner deals with, we had eight infant deaths due to co-sleeping in a short period of time," he added. WKRG 5 also noted that the Escambia County had six sleep-related incidents in 2018.
Health officials said that the number of infants deaths related to co-sleeping has gone down in recent decades, but there has been an uptick in the co-sleeping deaths, which is why officials are now speaking out, reported ABC 3.
If you're still nervous about leaving your baby alone in a room or want your child to be accessible to you for feedings, Lanzo told ABC 3 that there are some solutions out there for parents who like the idea of co-sleeping. "Parents have to be creative sometimes in finding ways not to co-sleep," he said. "We suggest cribs, bassinets or baby boxes. Baby boxes aren’t accepted in our culture, but it is extremely safe."
In the end, however, the best way to ensure that your baby will get a good night's sleep is to resist co-sleeping. And as Simmons explained in the PSA, make sure everyone who is caring for your child knows the rules about how to put your child to bed and to warn them your baby can't sleep on the same surface as you — even if it's on the couch.
This post was originally published on Mom.me sister site CafeMom.