Sleeping… it seems like such a natural and safe thing for infants to do.  They’re not crawling around getting into a myriad of dangerous things like putting their fingers into electrical sockets or chewing on the dog’s toy that has the metal squeaker hanging out; they aren’t eating some new food to which they could possibly have an allergic reaction; and they aren’t putting pennies in their mouths that they could swallow or choke on. They’re sleeping, certainly they must be safe when they are sleeping…aren’t they?  We would all like to think so, however, events have proved otherwise.

Bethany Ramos wrote in a She Knows -parenting article, “In February 2015, Cooper Fales’ parents brought him home from day care in a covered car seat. According to his day care provider, a woman Zach and Mary Fales considered a family friend after caring for their children for four years, the baby had fallen asleep in his car seat, which she then covered with a blanket. Since it was cold outside, the Fales left the blanket on and made their normal trek home. When they took the blanket off the car seat after arriving home, they found their little boy blue and stiff inside.”

Parents, child care providers, and well-meaning friends and relatives are all making the same fatal mistakes by putting or leaving infants and toddlers in car seats, swings, strollers and bouncers thinking that the children are safe in this equipment without being supervised; this is a dangerous assumption.  Leaving a child in anything other than a crib with a firm sleeping surface and without bedding or toys, is a perilous decision.

In a 2015 article in The Journal of Pediatrics, Dr. Batra, MD, Dr. Midgett, PhD, and Dr. Moon, MD, stated, “There is potential for injury when sitting devices are not used for their intended purpose or as originally designed. Closed-head injuries, skull fractures, broken bones, and suffocation have been reported in various sitting and carrying devices.” When a child dies while sleeping, the first thing most people think of is SIDS; however, the people who investigate infant sleep deaths are finding that is not usually the case.  Most infant sleep deaths are caused by unsafe sleeping events.

Andrea Hsu reported for NPR’s special series on science and medicine,  that Dr. Rachel Moon, MD, a pediatrician  at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., stated, “It’s been several years since they’ve seen what she calls a ‘true SIDS case’ in the District.  All the babies who died suddenly and unexpectedly have all died in unsafe sleep environments.  These are all cases that could have been prevented.”

In a world where we are all stressed, overworked,  and just trying to save a few moments of time, all of us have either relied on the short cut methods or at least…thought of using an alternate environment for our precious little ones to sleep.  There is a growing body of evidence that making this one treacherous decision could be a momentous mistake…one that we would not ever be able to forgive ourselves for.

After the the Back to Sleep campaign launched in 1994, the rate of SIDS deaths dropped by more than 50%. More recent studies raise new questions about intrinsic and extrinsic risk factors for infants — some of which are within a parent’s ability to control — but for an exhausted caregiver, the facts bring little relief.  In the YWCA “Reducing the Risk of SIDS” training (training calendar PDF) for child care providers and parents, we discuss simple steps that can reduce the external risk factors, like “back to sleep” and avoiding bed-sharing. Let’s work together to raise awareness and tip the statistics against SIDS once again.