After analyzing 47 infant deaths between January 2003 and June 2004, coroner Colin Harris has prepared a special report on sleep-related infant deaths which finds many of those deaths were preventable.

Mr. Harris found that 83% of the deaths “involved some type of unsafe sleep practice” and many “appeared to be preventable.”

The report found the most frequent cause of preventable sleep-related death was placing a baby on a surface that is not intended for a baby to sleep on. This would include couches, waterbeds, and adult beds. A baby should only be placed on a “firm mattress” that is “free of soft surfaces, bumper pads, and comforters.” Soft surfaces or objects can compromise an infants “ability to breathe.”    

Although many of the deaths were classified as “natural” and the cause listed as SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome), Mr. Harris believes this may be misleading. Since the pathological findings in SIDS cases are “quite often very similar to what we would find in asphyxia cases” the death scene should be carefully examined to obtain a broader picture of why the child may have actually died.

According to News, the report makes the following recommendations:

•    Infants shouldn’t sleep with adults, other children, or pets.
•    Infants should always sleep in a crib for their first year of life.
•    Always put an infant to sleep on his/her back.
•    Avoid loose items in cribs such as stuffed toys, soft bedding, or bumper pads.
•    Dress infant in sleeper to reduce the use of heavy blankets.
•    Use a firm mattress in cribs, with tightly fitted sheet.
•    After feeding, be sure to place the infant back in his/her crib.
•    Monitor room temperature to ensure the infant maintains an appropriate body temperature.
•    Avoid smoking anywhere near infants.

Mr. Harris believes the safety information must be conveyed to a wide audience of parents, nurses, babysitters, and health professionals including hospitals where it can be relayed directly to new mothers before they are discharged with their babies.

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