Travis County infant deaths on rise due to bed sharing


by ASHLEY GOUDEAU / KVUE News and Photojournalist PETER HULL

Bio | Email | Follow: @AshleyG_KVUE

Posted on February 19, 2014 at 11:49 AM

Updated Wednesday, Feb 19 at 11:53 PM

TRAVIS COUNTY -- The arrival of a baby is a joyous and exhausting time, when most parents want nothing more than to shower their little ones with love.

"It's very common to want to cuddle with your baby, and it's very easy, then, to fall asleep. Parents are tired," said Jane Hentzen, RNC-OB, a clinical educator at St. David's South Austin Medical Center.

But the mistake of falling asleep with a baby can be fatal. It's something five Travis County families are learning the hard way.

According to the Travis County Medical Examiner's office, in the last six weeks, five infants ranging from just a few weeks old to four months have died as a result of bed sharing.

"Some of these cases actually have been overlays, which means the caregiver, the adult or even a child, a brother, sister, cousin or whatever, has actually rolled over on the baby, causing the suffocation," said Leanne Courtney, RN, forensic nurse and senior investigator for the Travis County Medical Examiner's Office.

One baby was placed on a couch with an adult and suffocated. Another was laid down on an adult bed. The exact circumstances surrounding the other deaths are still under investigation. So far, no charges have been filed and all of the deaths are believed to be accidental.

Courtney said for an infant, suffocation can happen quickly and silently.

"It can take a matter of seconds just depending on the situation. If the baby is overlaid it will not take very long," Courtney said.

In 2010, Travis County had 17 infant sleep-related deaths. After an informational campaign, those numbers started to decrease. In 2011 there were 10 deaths, followed by nine in 2012 and eight in 2013. Now health providers fear the trend they've seen in the last six weeks could continue.

So they are hoping this is a wake-up call for parents about how their baby should be put to sleep.

"They should be put to sleep in a crib that doesn't have a lot of blankets, that doesn't have extra pillows and hats and stuffed animals and crib bumpers. It should be just a plain infant sleep environment." said Hentzen.

Hentzen said parents should put their babies in sleepers on onesie with feet to ensure they are warm instead of putting a blanket on a baby, because it can suffocate the child. If a blanket, pillow or toy covers a child's face, they lack the ability to take it off their face, causing them to suffocate.

Some parents worry their children will spit up while they are sleeping and therefore shouldn't be placed on their backs, but Courtney said gravity will cause spit up to go back down the child's throat if he or she is on their back and the baby will swallow. If the child is on their stomach and spits up, it could choke.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends people follow the ABCs of safe sleep: make sure your baby is Alone, on its Back, in a Crib.

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