Infant deaths rise in Greene County due to Co-Sleeping

By Diana Davis - bio | email feedback

PARAGOULD, AR (KAIT) -- There's probably nothing sweeter than the image of a baby drifting off to sleep-- be it in your arms or lying next to you. But these innocent moments can turn tragic when you fall asleep "with" that baby.  There's a growing controversy over where babies should sleep--in some cases, it's proving to be a deadly argument. Movements on the internet and in magazines promote co-sleeping, or sleeping in the same bed with your infant because it's considered "bonding time."  In other cultures in the world, it's considered commonplace. But, what everyone--not just parents, but even grandparents and siblings here in the United States needs to know is that there are very real risks to putting a baby in bed with you to sleep.

"He had eyes that you could just see forever..." said Lynne, mother of Drew, who was born in January.  Dark brown eyes and reddish hair, he was his mother's dream for a son. Then the dream, became a nightmare just one month later.

"I rolled over and it was dark in the room," said Lynne, wiping away tears. "But you could see something on his face and I touched it and it was dried blood, and I turned the light on and I just knew."

We know her only as "Lynne." She mustered up the courage to go before our camera in hopes of sparing other parents from knowing her grief.  It's grief that this 27-year-old mother says has consumed her life. She feels responsible for her infant son's death, as she had put him in bed with her.

"How important it is not to sleep with your child," sobs Lynne.  "It's such a heavy burden to carry on everyday..."

And Lynne is not alone.

"I can think of six cases so far this year," said Dick Pace, Greene County coroner.  "I think this is a high incident rate for what Greene county has observed in the past.  Now I've been coroner for 15 years and to my recollection, this is the highest number of children that we've had in a short period of time."

Seemingly healthy babies... like 2-month-old Molly.  Her mother, Dr. Kristina Wenger, a Paragould pediatrician says she cautions parents to "not" put their babies in bed with them.  But, she says they sometimes just don't listen.

"Some parents still chose to sleep with the baby in bed with them which is disheartening," comments Dr. Wenger. "All I can do is give my recommendation and say a prayer that SIDS does not strike their home."

The incidence of SIDS, or sudden infant death syndrome--sometimes referred to as crib death, is increased when a parent, grandparent or sibling shares the bed with an infant.

"I recommend sharing the room, not the bed," states Dr. Wenger from the stage at a recent SIDS fund raiser.

Because of Greene county's increase in infant deaths involving co-sleeping, Dr. Wenger takes her message to anyone who will listen.

"Don't sleep in the recliner with your baby.  Don't sleep in the bed with your baby.  Don't sleep on the sofa with your baby," said Dr. Wenger.

"Just today, I was opening my mail and one case that I think we had back in the latter part of February, it was attributed to co-sleeping," said Pace.

Pace says he finds many babies suffocated.

"I have two recent cases that the children were found between a mattress and a wall," said Pace.

"It is a tragedy that you wouldn't want to wish on any parent," said Debbie Brehmer, Education Director at Arkansas Methodist Medical Center. "The worst thing a parent can live through is the death of a child."

Brehmer says babies have a tendency to want to cuddle up next to us. But infants can't turn their heads.

"It just takes a very little pressure around the nose to break that vessel and for the nose to bleed and for us to cut off their airway."

"Every day is a what if.  Every day..."

Lynne holds Drew's clothes, some of which he never got to wear.  But the ones he did, Lynne can still smell his baby scent and she treasures that.

"Everytime I see a little boy, I think about what Drew would have been like at that age," said Lynne.  "I imagine every day for the rest of my life.  I'll think of it and I'll cry for him."

Such a tragedy.. and one that could be prevented.  Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Consumer Product Safety Commission warns parents "not" to place infants in adult beds because the practice puts babies at risk of suffocation and strangulation. Even falling asleep in recliners and sofas with your baby is dangerous. Doctors say calm your baby and put them back in their bed, back to sleep.

Now let's say you don't have a baby bed handy. You may be on a trip, in a hotel, whatever... Dr. Wenger says babies need their very own sleeping area--even if it's a sturdy box with sheets, that's what's best. Babies need to be away from heavy comforters, pillows and plush mattresses adults use. And it's very important that caregivers like babysitters know this information too. It just might save a life.