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Santa Clara County Infants are Dying from Unsafe Sleeping Practices


SANTA CLARA COUNTY, CALIF. – Tragically, unsafe sleeping practices have been responsible for the deaths of 41 infants in Santa Clara County within the last six years. To date, in 2011, 3 confirmed infant deaths have been caused by unsafe sleeping practices. In an effort to prevent any more of these tragic deaths, parents and caregivers are being cautioned to be aware of unsafe sleeping practices that place infants at serious risk of death.

It is extremely unsafe to put an infant to sleep on an adult bed, couch, sofa bed, or other soft surface, such as a pillow. Infants can die when they become trapped between cushions, or have their faces pressed into soft bedding or pillows, ultimately suffocating. Bed sharing with an infant is also an extremely dangerous practice. When adults, older children or large pets share a bed or other sleeping surface with a baby, they can easily roll over on top of or up against the baby without even being aware of it during deep sleep, thus causing the baby to suffocate.

Infants under one year of age should be put to sleep on their backs, alone, and in their cribs or bassinets. Babies should never sleep with adults, older children or large pets, and their cribs or bassinets should not contain any toys, stuffed animals, or soft bedding. Babies should never sleep on adult beds, chairs, sofas, waterbeds, cushions, or nursing pillows.

In Santa Clara County, the average age of the babies who died since 2005 due to unsafe sleep was three months old, and almost all of them died before they turned seven months old. Most were born full term and were healthy babies, and almost half died while bed sharing with an adult or older child.

To determine that unsafe sleeping is what caused the deaths of infants in these cases, the Medical Examiner in Santa Clara County has conducted thorough scene and medical investigations that include baby-doll reenactments. These reenactments allow the Medical Examiner to work closely with parents and caregivers, in order to conduct a very careful analysis of the baby’s sleeping position and the specific circumstances that led to the baby’s demise. The Medical Examiner’s findings are then presented to the County’s Child Death Review Team for review before the deaths are classified.

Data shows that unsafe sleeping practices cause more infant deaths than Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). In contrast to the preventable accidental deaths caused by unsafe sleeping practices, SIDS is a sudden, unexplained death of a baby under one year of age and is not caused by unsafe sleeping practices. Since 2005, two Santa Clara County baby deaths have been classified as SIDS.

Media Contact: Amy Cornell, Health Information Officer, Santa Clara County Public Health Department (408) 792-5155
Posted: November 18, 2011