Rise in accidental infant deaths prompts warning

BUFFALO, NY - Western New York may not have weathered a recent spell of bitter cold as well as had been thought.

Health officials are raising the possibility of a link between the cold snap, and a rise in accidental infant deaths.

"It is all very tragic," said Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein, who is sounding an alarmlest there be another tragedy, linked to what she refers to unsafe sleeping arrangements, which most commonly involve an adult placing a baby in bed with them, or putting blankets on them in their cribs.

In 2013 there were eight infant deaths in Western New York attributed to unsafe sleeping practices.

However, according to Burstein, there have already been six in just the first month of 2014.

Three of those deaths occurred in the past week alone.

"I think the problem is that it's been very, very cold out this winter and parents are trying to take precautions to keep their infants warm at night," Burstein told WGRZ-TV.

Three of the infants who died this month had been placed in bed with an adult, who in their sleep unknowingly rolled over on top of them.

Two others suffocated beneath blankets placed with them in their cribs

"It's not recommended for an infant to put a blanket in their bed," said Burstein. "The best strategy is to dress them in layers, with lots of pajamas to try to keep the baby warm."

Burstein also reminds parents of newborns to put them down on their backs, not their stomachs, when it is time for sleep.

"We provide every family, when they're discharged from a birthing hospital, information about safe sleeping practices," said Burstein, who reminds parents to take the advice to heart to avoid the potential for a tragedy that can be avoidable.

While for many the solution on a cold night might be to turn up the thermostat, among the poor, pinching pennies to pay their heat bills, there can be an increased temptation to bring a baby into bed to keep them warm.

As well, there is concern that immigrant parents, from cultures where sleeping with babies is more prevalent, may also be more at risk to lose a child in this fashion.

While acknowledging those concerns, Burstein declined to say whether they were factors in any of the recent infant deaths, instead noting that such tragedies have occurred in families of all social and economic backgrounds.

"It's very sad…so we just really want to reach out to families and remind them about safe sleeping practices, because it's going to be a long cold winter," she said.

Click on the video player to watch our story from 2 On Your Side Reporter Dave McKinley and Photojournalist Dave Harrington.

Follow Dave McKinley on Twitter: @DaveMcKinley2.


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