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July 27, 2011

07/28/11 In State Fiscal Year 2009 nearly one baby a week died needlessly in Indiana. Why? Because a parent, caregiver or sibling was sleeping on the same surface. Usually they were sharing a bed but sometimes it was a sofa or chair. Forty-six children lost their lives primarily because of a heartbreaking error in judgment. Most of the infants died from accidental suffocation. Some died because a parent rolled on top of them. Others became trapped by the bed frame, headboard or footboard or between the bed and wall, furniture or other object.

In one particularly grievous case, during a happy reunion with out-of-town family members staying over-night, a young mom allowed her 2-month-old son to sleep in an adult bed with three of her half-siblings. In the morning the baby was unresponsive. An ambulance rushed him to the hospital where he was pronounced dead. The cause of death was asphyxia by overlaying; a teenager sleeping in the same bed had accidentally rolled on top of the infant.  

Tragic deaths like these were attributed to an unsafe sleeping practice known as ‘bed-sharing.’ (Not to be confused with co-sleeping, a preferred sleeping arrangement in which the infant rests on its own sleep surface next to a separate surface where the parent is sleeping.) Bed-sharing with children has become much too common for Indiana families and is resulting in preventable deaths.  

As is usually the case, some of our most vulnerable children—those 6 months old or younger—are the ones most grievously affected when parents don’t understand the risks associated with unsafe sleep habits. That young age group accounted for eighty percent of those 46 deaths associated with bed-sharing.

Why do parents sometimes sleep with their babies? Some say it’s a bonding experience or they feel the baby will be warmer and more comfortable in a parent’s bed, especially during the winter months. Some believe it encourages breastfeeding by making nighttime feeding more convenient. Unfortunately, drugs and alcohol can also play a role, too. In two of the tragedies, it was determined an infant died when a drunk or impaired caregiver accidentally rolled onto the child.

Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission warn that infants should not sleep with their parents. I want to echo this warning.

The safest place for a baby to sleep is in a safety-approved crib or bassinet in the same room with a parent or caregiver. Adult beds are not made for babies and carry a risk of accidental entrapment and suffocation. Research has shown that a baby’s risk of dying is 40 times greater while sleeping on an adult bed rather than a safe crib. Parents should create a safe sleep zone for their baby by:

 - Always placing your baby on his/her back on a firm mattress covered with only a tight-fitting crib sheet.

– Removing all soft, loose or fluffy bedding, as well as pillows, blankets and stuffed animals from your baby’s sleep space.

We want Hoosier families to realize that bed-sharing with an infant is an alarmingly unsafe practice. It only takes a moment for a child to suffocate…a moment that will be frozen in time and a horror that will last forever.

If you can’t afford a crib, your local Community Partners for Child Safety may be able to connect you with resources. You can support prevention efforts like this by purchasing a KIDS FIRST TRUST FUND license plate or by making a donation to the fund. More information is available at