Winter-safe sleeping for babies

Before my daughter, August Lee, was born, Grandma Mimi made her a hand-stitched “glorious garden” quilt with brilliant calico flowers and jaunty sawtooth edging.

Rather than putting the quilt in her crib, I hung it on the nursery wall to preserve Mimi’s precious gift. Doing so may have also protected an even more priceless treasure — my baby.

It seems almost illogical that a dreamy nursery could contribute to the nightmare of losing a child. Yet all those sweet baby items — crib bumpers, blankies, carefully embroidered burp cloths — could pose a deadly risk.

Each year, more than 4,000 infants in the United States die suddenly of no immediately obvious cause, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Known as Sudden Unexpected Infant Death, about half the occurrences are due to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). The CDC reports SIDS is the leading cause of all deaths among infants ages 1 to 12 months. Other causes include accidental suffocation and strangulation, often linked to bedding, clothing or stuffed animals.

Many people still use the old term “crib death” to describe such tragedies, because that’s often where the unresponsive baby is found. It’s vitally important that caregivers take precautions against sleep-related infant deaths, said Erika Janes, R.N., coordinator of Safe Kids Louisville and Jefferson County, a program led by the Children’s Hospital Foundation Office of Child Advocacy of Norton Children’s Hospital.

Janes said being safe is as easy as ABC: “Always put babies to sleep alone, on their backs, in a safe crib.”

“Sleeping on their stomachs is an absolute risk. For no reason — ever — do you put a baby down to sleep other than on their back,” Janes said. “Don’t leave them asleep in car seats; don’t leave them asleep in swings.”

Kentucky’s infant death rate due to SIDS is 0.9 per 1,000 live births, almost double the national rate of 0.5 per 1,000, according to the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services. Janes attributes this to the state’s high percentage of smokers. Smoking during pregnancy contributes to between 22 and 34 percent of SIDS deaths, according to a study in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine. In fact, “Aside from sleep position, smoke exposure is the largest contributing risk factor for SIDS,” noted a report in the journal Pediatrics, citing studies published in more than a dozen periodicals.

Aside from not smoking — either during or after pregnancy — Janes recommends the following guidelines for protecting a sleeping infant:

Be firm. Never place a baby to sleep on a soft surface, such as a pillow, quilt, sheepskin or waterbed. A firm, safety-approved crib mattress, covered with a snugly fitted sheet, is best. And evict that menagerie of stuffed animals from the crib!

Swaddle safely. Stop swaddling once the baby is able to work his or her hands out of the swaddle. Janes said that milestone usually happens at about two months old.

Use climate control. Avoid overheating a baby; a light one-piece bodysuit or sleeper should be fine. “If the room is comfortable for you, it’s comfortable for the baby,” Janes said.

Eliminate hazards. Look for gaps around the mattress or crib where the baby could become entrapped. Never place a crib near blinds, electric cords or other strangulation hazards. Remove drawstrings on clothing.

Finally, the American Academy of Pediatrics offers this advice: It’s OK to share your bedroom with your baby, but don’t “co-sleep” by sharing your bed.

For more information about baby safety, call (502) 629-7358.

–Mickey Gramig


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