Unsafe sleeping is top cause for infant mortality rates

DELAWARE COUNTY, Ind. -- Unsafe sleeping conditions are likely the cause of death for a 4-month old Muncie baby. The infant’s mom, Tricia Cavanaugh, was arrested on charges of neglect dependent resulting in death.

Cases like this one are common and now officials in Delaware County are sending a strong message to parents. Chief Trial Deputy Eric Hoffman said these cases are 100% preventable.

"By sleeping with your child you are playing Russian roulette with the life of your child," Hoffman said.

Delaware County consistently ranks sixth in the state for infant deaths. From 2011-2015 the county reported 52 infant deaths. Of those, 14 of them were due to unsafe sleeping practices.

"I think a lot of cases are cases where the mother has taken one or more controlled substances, passed out with their child and the child dies," said Hoffman.

According to court records, that was the case for Cavanaugh. Charging documents show Cavanaugh had prescription drugs in her system when she fell asleep next to her daughter.

"Neglect is placing your child in a situation that endangers its life or health," explained Hoffman.

He said while each case is different, parents can avoid a possible tragic situation by having their child sleep in a crib and not in the same bed.

Dr. Kim Schneider, a pediatrics specialist at IU Health, said the increase in the number of cases across the state could be due to experts recognizing the causes of infant deaths.

"It’s one of the most worrisome causes of unsafe sleep and so we’ve had lots of deaths in Indiana from infants co-sleeping with parents," Dr. Schneider explained.

Health experts regularly have all parents bringing home a newborn look over educational material on caring for an infant. Included in that is the "ABC's of safe sleeping."

  1. Alone: Have your infant sleep by themselves and not in a bed with others. That also means removing all toys, bedding, blankets, and stuffed animals from an infant’s crib.
  2. Back: Have your baby sleep on its back. Statistics show infants have a higher risk of dying from SIDS if they sleep on their tummy.
  3. Crib: Place your baby in a flat crib, bassinet, or playpen.

Often times, parents will have their babies sleep in their beds until the baby falls asleep, but Dr. Schneider said that's dangerous for parents who are exhausted and may accidentally fall asleep in the bed with the baby.

"Putting that baby’s bassinet or playpen right next to their bed so they have easy access helps a little bit, too because then it decreases the time of going back and forth. It also helps you keep a better eye on them," said Dr. Schneider.

Hoffman said parents need to start listening to these guidelines.

"If you don’t care enough about your baby to listen to what the doctor says, perhaps the fear of going to jail will be enough to save the child," Hoffman said.

At IU Health, every new mom that gives birth at the hospital goes home with a sleeping sack. The hope is parents will use that instead of putting their child in a bed or even in a crib with bedding that could suffocate the infant.

Click here for more info of safe sleeping resources for parents.

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