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Infant Suffocation Deaths Are Rising

But Study Shows Sudden Infant Death Syndrome Is Declining

Preventing Infant Deaths

Shapiro-Mendoza tells WebMD that ASSB deaths are potentially preventable. She says a "comprehensive" investigation of the site of death is critical in determining cause of death. Often, she says, autopsy findings can't tell the difference between strangulation or physiological causes such as heart defects.

All mysterious infant deaths used to be classified as SIDS cases, she says, adding that coroners and medical examiners need to be more careful about diagnosing cause of death to help scientists fight infant mortality.

"A death scene investigation, an autopsy, and a review of medical records are essential to correctly classify these deaths," she tells WebMD.

It's unlikely that comprehensive investigations are the rule, she adds.

New parents also often get conflicting advice, she says.

"A lot of grandparents still say, put the baby on its stomach," Shapiro-Mendoza says. "That's bad advice."

Seema Csukas, MD, director of child health promotion at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, says the medical community has "gotten better at defining what is SIDS and what isn't SIDS. Some of these may be genetic, caused by heart problems. The strangulation-suffocation deaths shouldn't be increasing."

Bradley Thach, MD, of the Washington University School of Medicine, tells WebMD that coroners and others are beginning to understand that many SIDS cases should be classified as suffocations.

"Sudden unexpected infant death is broader, including true SIDS as well as cases of accidental suffocation," he says. "We now know there are several causes of sudden death and some can be found only in post-mortem tests."

It's also becoming more recognized, he says, "that if you put babies face down they are more likely to suffocate."

Reducing Infant Deaths: Tips for Parents

Csukas says parents and all caregivers should be familiar with American Academy of Pediatrics and CDC guidelines, which if followed will reduce infant mortality.

Here are some recommendations from Csukas and Thach:

  • Don't sleep with infants or allow others to.
  • Make sure that infants are put to bed on their backs, not their stomachs.
  • Infants should sleep on hard mattresses. Soft "squishy" bedding can lead to suffocation.
  • Remove heavy blankets or stuffed toys from sleep area.
  • Consider using single-piece sleep attire, sometimes called "sleepers," that would keep the infant warm without blankets or coverings.
  • Clear cribs. Infants have strangled on cords from Venetian blinds.
  • Slats on cribs should not be far enough apart for an infant's head to stick through.
  • Use thin bumper pads, not thick ones.
  • Ask your doctor for advice, not necessarily mothers or grandmothers. Times have changed, and so has advice.
  • Be aware that cribs bought at garage sales or found in attics might not meet current guidelines of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
  • Putting infants to sleep on their sides is dangerous; it's easy for them to roll onto their stomachs.
  • Do not smoke around infants.
  • Make sure caregivers know what you do about putting your infant or baby to sleep. Many don't, even at established day-care centers.
  • Pacifiers may be used when placing an infant down to sleep, but they should not be reinserted after he or she goes to sleep.

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