The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

June 15, 2013

An act of parental tenderness can turn into tragedy for child

By Phyllis Zorn, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — It seems to be an act of parental tenderness, or perhaps an effort for a sleep-deprived parent to get some rest — but it’s also Garfield County’s top reason for infant death in recent years.

Co-sleeping — taking the baby to bed with the parent — carries a risk of suffocation for the infant, said Marie Holsten, district director of child welfare services for Garfield County Department of Human Services. In fact, in the past two years in Garfield County, it has been the number one cause of infant mortality.

“We’ve had 10 child deaths from January 2011 to June 2013, and half of them have been from co-sleeping,” Holsten said.

Holsten said a tipoff that a baby’s death might be from improper sleeping is an absence of marks on the child. There are no bruises, no detached retinas from being shaken, nothing to indicate that any abuse might have taken place.

If the baby was not sleeping with the parents, the baby might have suffocated in blankets or stuffed animals, against a crib bumper or the arm of an easy chair. Babies need to be put down to sleep in a safe sleeping environment, Holsten said.

“These are just tragic accidents,” Holsten said. “I think society is just changing and this is something that just needs to change.”

There is no fault to be found with the parents in sleep-related deaths, Holsten said.

“These are loving parents and they want to take care of the baby,” Holsten said. “They just wanted to be close to the baby.”

Sometimes a sleeping parent has rolled over onto the child. Sometimes the child has suffocated on pillows, bedding, bumper pads, stuffed animals, blankets, the back of the couch or the like.

That’s a reason for not having such items in the crib.

“It used to be you had bumper pads, stuffed animals and extra blankets,” Holsten said.

Now experts advise eliminating anything the child can get caught up in from the bed.

Holsten said investigating the death of an infant is painful for everyone involved, from child welfare workers to police officers to medical examiners.

By requirement, their investigations are reviewed by the state child death review board in Oklahoma City.

Detective Tim Doyle, Enid Police Department, said he doesn’t believe young parents are being taught enough about caring for babies.

“I don’t think our teenagers particularly are taught how to parent,” Doyle said.

Doyle pointed out that many young parents do very well, but not all of them.

“We teach every child about algebra when probably 95 percent of them will never use it in life,” Doyle said. “But probably 95 percent of them will become parents.”

Bobbie Smith, a nurse with the Children First home visitation program at Garfield County Health Department said the risks of improper sleeping don’t stop when the baby gets older and more mobile. Babies as old as 6 to 7 months have died while sleeping in an improper environment, Smith said.

Eve Switzer, Enid pediatrician of 16 years, said the American Academy of Pediatrics made a push to get parent to put babies to sleep on their backs in 1992. The Sudden Infant Death Syndrome rate has fallen since that time. Infant deaths from entrapment — babies getting caught in the parts of the crib, getting trapped under stuffed toys, blankets or crib bumper pads, and like scenarios — have increased.

“I don’t think the basics of safe sleep have changed since 1992,” Switzer said. “I think a lot of people are well-meaning when they want to put a bumper pad in there. Adding the bumper pads is not shown to make the crib safer.”

Additionally, breastfeeding and immunization have been shown to have an effect on SIDS.

“I think breastfeeding is undervalued,” Switzer said. “There’s a significant reduction in the rate of SIDS. The second thing is we also know that routine immunizations, with kids getting all of their shots on time, reduces SIDS by as much of 50 percent.”