On Saturday afternoon a 5-month-old baby died while taking a nap in bed with his mother, Wichita police said Monday.
According to police this was the seventh case in Wichita this year of “co-sleeping deaths,” when a child dies while sleeping in the same bed as someone else. Last year there were seven in Wichita in total.
“It looks like it’s going to be an abominable year,” said Christy Schunn, the director of the Kansas Infant Death and SIDS Network.
Although Schunn hasn’t seen reports on a recent uptick, in recent years she said the main cause has been parents who have received mixed messages.
When parents are tired and their babies wake up crying, they might take the baby into bed with them.
That’s because some parents have been given outdated information, Schunn said, whether it be a grandparent or a parenting book that advocates breastfeeding in bed.
Schunn said that some studies have shown breastfeeding can reduce Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, another cause of infant death, so her group supports breastfeeding. But she says some breastfeeding advocates argue that babies should sleep with their parents and Schunn says this is dangerous.
Schunn says there is only one way for babies to sleep safely in their first year, encapsulated by the acronym ABC: Alone, on their Backs, in a Clutter-free Crib. The American Academy of Pediatrics started supporting this message in 2005, but the message hasn’t gotten out to everyone yet, she said.
Adult beds can be dangerous for babies. Parent can roll on top of them. Blankets and pillows can suffocate them.
“There is no such thing as safe co-bedding, because the other human in that bed is unsafe, because the other pillows are unsafe, because the mattress itself is unsafe,” Schunn said. “So you can have less risk factors, but there are still risk factors.”
Even in cribs, blankets and stuffed animals are a potential hazard.
A few years ago, Schunn said, two-thirds of the parents her group teaches about infant sleep said that if they had not received a crib, they might have put the baby to bed in an unsafe situation. Schunn says the number has been cut in half today.
But still some parents think they will wake up when they hear the baby cry or struggle if there is a problem, but that’s not what the autopsies show, she said.
“They are so small they don’t have the control you or I have,” Schunn said. “If a pillow is blocking the airway, they are breathing carbon dioxide, and there is not gasping, there is not crying. Do they wiggle out of the way a little? Maybe. What I’ve heard from everyone is there is no struggle.”