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David Morgan
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Increased Risk for Sudden Unexpected Infant Deaths

December 30, 2013 - Maternal & Child Health - Safety

The New Mexico Department of Health warns parents of the increased risks of sudden unexpected infant deaths during the New Year’s holiday.

A national study, completed in 2010, indicates it may be just as important to pick a “designated caregiver” for the baby during the holidays as it is to select a “designated driver”. When parents drink alcohol, and especially in excess, their young infant is vulnerable to increased risk.

The University of California study, published in the journal Addiction, found a 33% increase in the incidence of sudden unexpected infant deaths on New Year’s Eve. Researchers found alcohol was a risk factor for sudden unexpected infant deaths, and that parental decision-making capacity is significantly impaired by the excessive use of alcohol.

The study looked at 129,090 cases of sudden, unexpected infant deaths in the US from 1973 to 2006 and also tracked alcohol-related motor vehicle accidents among the general population. Both were at an all-time high on New Year's Day, as well as on the 4th of July.

Babies of mothers who drink alcohol are also twice as likely to die unexpectedly, according to the study.

The New Mexico Department of Health is currently expanding its Safe Sleep efforts, focusing on the baby sleeping Alone, on its Back, in a Crib, or “ABC”, and having no one smoking inside the home, whether during the pregnancy or after the baby is born.

There were 86 cases of unexpected infant deaths in New Mexico between 2009 and 2012, or an average of one every 13 days.

Each year more than 4,000 infants die suddenly of no obvious cause in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about half of these events are due to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), which is the leading cause of death among infants aged 1 to 12 months. According to the Mayo Clinic, SIDS is most likely to occur between 2 and 4 months of age, and 90 percent occur by 6 months.

Before 1992, when parents were first advised to put babies to sleep on their backs or sides, 11,000 babies a year died suddenly and without explanation of cause of death in the US.

However, some parents still believe the baby can safely sleep on its stomach, and/or co-sleep with parents, siblings or other caregivers in beds. In fact, both sleeping on the stomach and co-sleeping in a bed instead of alone in a crib increases the risk for suffocation.

The three most frequently reported causes of sudden unexpected infant deaths are:

  1. sudden infant death syndrome which is called SIDS
  2. cause unknown
  3. accidental suffocation and strangulation in bed.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, almost two thirds of sudden unexpected infant deaths occurred while the baby was co-sleeping with another family member. The New Mexico Department of Health recommends:

  • Always designate a sober caregiver for babies under one year of age, especially during holidays and celebrations such as New Years.
  • Remember ABC: All babies under one year of age should always sleep Alone, on their Backs, and in a Crib every time, including for naps and at night.
  • Do not smoke in the house, either during pregnancy or after the baby is born.
  • Use a firm sleep surface for babies to sleep on, such as a safety-approved crib mattress covered with a fitted sheet. Never place a baby to sleep on a pillow, quilt, sheepskin, or other soft surface.
  • Keep soft objects, toys, and loose bedding out of your baby’s sleep area. Don’t use pillows, blankets, quilts, sheepskins, sleep postioners, or pillow-like bumpers in your baby’s sleep area. Keep all items away from the baby’s face.
  • Avoid letting your baby overheat during sleep. Dress your baby in light sleep clothing and keep the room at a temperature that is comfortable for an adult.

To learn more about safe sleeping for your baby, you can check out the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Safe to Sleep website.

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