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Sleep-related infant deaths – What can we do?

By Anna C. Benton, director
Family and Community Health Services
City of Milwaukee Health Department

For the past decade, an average of 23 Milwaukee infants each year have died while sleeping unsafely. To address this issue, the City of Milwaukee Health Department recently launched a “safe sleep” campaign to prevent deaths related to bed-sharing in Milwaukee. The posters and radio announcements are part of a comprehensive effort to raise awareness and encourage safe sleep.

But since the beginning of this year, four local infants have died while sleeping unsafely. One of the reasons that the message may not be sinking in is because there are a number of misconceptions about safe sleep. First, people think they can share a bed safely. There is no such thing. Your bed is always a dangerous place for your baby: the only way to be perfectly sure your baby is safe is to put him in his own crib or bassinet. Second, people think it can’t happen to them, and that only parents who drink or use drugs lose their babies. Our statistics tell us that less than 20 percent of the SIDS or unsafe-sleep deaths involve any alcohol or drugs.

Our message is this: if you want your baby to be as safe as possible, put him on his back, in his own crib or bassinet, with no bumper pads, blankets, toys, or pillows. A large number of recent infant deaths have involved pillows. To a baby, a pillow can be deadly – no baby under the age of two should be anywhere near a pillow, ever.

It is hard to break old habits, especially if they go against the “way we were raised.” But in this case, it is a matter of life and death. If you sleep with your baby, stop today. Go purchase a crib or bassinet. And if you can’t afford one, call the City of Milwaukee Health Department as we may be able to help: 414-286-8620.