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Infant deaths during sleep

In the nursery, new parents Carolyn and Kenton are anxious to take home their first bundle of joy. "We don't have a choice," says Carolyn jokingly, and without hesitation, "yes, we're ready."

Having taken about every prenatal prep course available, she's quick to recall that in about every class "they stress, laying on your back, laying on your back. Getting rid of any and everything in the crib."

They are guidelines that can save tiny lives, but not everyone heeds the advice and the consequences are too often, tragic.

According to Erika Janes, RN and Coordinator with Kosair Children's Hospital Office of Child Advocacy, "in Jefferson County we lose at least one baby, if not two or three every month because of an unsafe sleeping environment."

It's not just a 'back to sleep' problem. That campaign push from 1994 got immediate results with a 50% drop in SIDS cases. Now a new category is emerging called ' Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy' or SUDI. This new classification includes cases of SIDS but also causes that go beyond back versus tummy. It documents cases of suffocation, and asphyxiation that are the result of sleeping in unsafe areas or positions.

Neonatologist, Dr. Olugbemisola Obi cares for infants that are at a higher risk of SUDI and follows the numbers closely. Risk factors that include low-birth weight and being born premature, smoking is known cause of both. Dr. Obi says in terms of infant deaths, "those cases are reviewed monthly and basically we found a lot of babies who are falling in the category of babies dying in unsafe positions."

"So we're seeing now bed sharing, co-sleeping quilts, sheepskins, kids on futons, kids in chairs," says Janes.

The steps to take to prevent those risky sleepy conditions are simple. Put the baby in a crib, on the back and alone. According to experts and research, there should be no bumpers, no pillow and no padding. The mattress should be firm and fit tightly. Room temperature is recommended between 68 and 75 degrees. Janes says "don't overdress the baby." A sleep sack is a safe choice but if a blanket is used says Janes, it should be "tucked in, definitely at the feet, definitely at both sides and we don't want it any higher than the chest level of the baby."

Despite what you may see in hospital nurseries, where babies are monitored 24-7, the home crib is a no-hat zone. SUDI happens outside the crib too. "We had cases where the mother woke up and she was on the baby," Janes recalls. Even for breastfeeding moms, the experts advise once baby is fed is back to his own crib or bassinet.

Research does show both breastfeeding and pacifiers are protective against SUDI. Smoking while pregnant doubles the risk. And the risk increases even higher when the baby is exposed to smoke after birth.

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