Health officials discuss SUIDs and precautions to keep babies safe while sleeping

"It's never safe if we're still having this happen."

Sloane Martin
October 09, 2019 - 5:05 pm

Although it's a small fraction of babies born in Minnesota each year, even one loss from Sudden Unexpected Infant Deaths each year is too many.

Dr. Owen Middleton, the assistant chief medical examiner in Hennepin County says part of the investigation into infant deaths includes a walk-through with a doll to show how the baby was left and how it was found.

It's a gut-wrenching process.

"In credible information comes from these re-enactments," he said. "Unfortunately, these are some of the most emotionally taxing events that can occur during an investigation for both the families and the investigators."

Data from the Minnesota Health Department show 90 babies died of SUIDs in 2016 and 2017. Preliminary data for 2018 shoes 51 infant deaths but the number of sleep-related ones has not yet been determined. Of those 90, 74 were due to unsafe sleep environments. Of those 74, 85 percent were not in a crib, bassinet or side sleeper. Eight-one percent had unsafe bedding or toys.  More than 60 percent were sharing a bed or couch with another person. And more than half were in an unsafe sleeping position such as being on their side or belly.

"How many of you have kids and have slept with your child before, have had your child fall asleep on your chest, have woken up and been like, 'Oh, thank goodness everything was OK'?" Minnesota Heath Department Assistant Commissioner Dr. Courtney Jordan Baechler said. "Probably most of us and most of us haven't experienced that tragedy of an unexpected loss, but as Dr. Middleton pointed out, it happens, and it happens enough that we together need to collectively at the hospital as physicians, as nurses, as parents, as community members, as manufacturers say, 'It's never safe if we're still having this happen.'"

Dr. Baechler says they often seen racial and socioeconomic disparities in families affected, which they're trying to address through education.

"One [of the ways] is education," she said. "But without [economic] opportunity and safe housing, education only goes so far."

Officials say babies should sleep alone, on their backs in a crib, and without any blankets, pillows or stuffed animals. They recommend using swaddling clothes, avoiding hats, and using a simple fitted sheet on a mattress with nothing else in the crib.

Second-hand smoke also contributes to SUIDs.

Hennepin Healthcare, formerly Hennepin County Medical Center, became the first hospital in the state to receive a "gold level" National Safe Sleep Hospital Certification for its policy of using sleep sacks instead of blankets and providing education to parents prior to discharge.

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