The Press Herald recently published an article headlined “State issues report detailing deaths of 143 children since 2007, and any DHHS involvement in their cases.” Highlighted was a report of 35 infant deaths caused by bed sharing (when an infant shares a sleeping surface with an adult, another child or a pet), and another 18 deaths from SUID (sudden unexplained infant deaths). These categories of infant deaths are important to separate out, as many are preventable. As a physician and a nurse with over 50 years combined experience providing care to hundreds of babies in Maine, we urge parents and other caregivers to take steps to protect infants.

SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) is the death of an infant less than 1 year of age that remains unexplained after an autopsy and death scene review. In the 1990s, when the “Back to Sleep” campaign instructed families and caregivers that the safest position for an infant to sleep is on their back, the U.S. saw a 50 percent reduction in SIDS. More recently, the rate of infant death from SIDS has plateaued and more infants die from accidental suffocation and strangulation in bed. Accidental suffocation and strangulation includes smothering by a caregiver or asphyxiation by blankets, bumper pads, pillows, stuffed animals or loose clothing. Increasing accidental suffocation and strangulation or other unsafe sleep deaths have been noted across the country, and the Sept. 1 Press Herald article calls out the concerning Maine statistics describing sleep-related deaths.

Since 2010, Maine typically has seen 10-12 unsafe sleep-related infant deaths annually. These tragic, preventable deaths have long been on the radar of advocacy and government agencies. For over 10 years we have partnered with these organizations to work with hospitals and health care providers to provide education and consistent messaging to families and caregivers of newborns. One example of collaboration is a partnership between The Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital, Maine Children’s Trust and the National Cribs for Kids organization. Our Maine Chapter of Cribs for Kids was founded in 2009 to provide safe sleep education and a safe sleep environment (Pack ’N Play or similar) to any Maine infant whose family cannot afford a crib or bassinet.

In 2019, Maine Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew spearheaded a new Safe Sleep campaign expanding existing collaborations. All birthing hospitals in the state were asked to achieve Safe Sleep Certification from Cribs for Kids and met this important goal in April. Both MaineHealth Children’s Services and the Perinatal Quality Collaborative for Maine (PQC4ME) supported this work, offering education and technical assistance to nurses, physicians and others who work with current and expectant parents and their infants. Practices learned in the hospital are carried over in the home, so modeling infant safe sleep while families and babies are in the hospital is crucial. DHHS’ campaign also included developing a website, safesleepforme.org, and public service announcements educating about and encouraging safe sleep for all infants.

We are pleased to share that through combined efforts of state government, child advocates and health care providers across the state, six fewer babies died in unsafe sleep circumstances in 2020, a promising 50 percent reduction in unsafe sleep deaths.

This success will be sustained only through ongoing education and collaboration among the various organizations involved, and by all caregivers of infants following these American Academy of Pediatrics Safe Sleep Task Force recommendations:

• Safe sleep ABCDs: Infants should sleep Alone, on their Back, in a Crib (or bassinet or Pack ’N Play), in a home without Drugs and other Dangers.

• A couch or chair is one of the most dangerous sleep environments for an infant.

• Prevent overheating by placing a baby in one more layer than an adult would use for sleep; this is especially important as we approach the winter months, as infants have died when placed to sleep in snow suits or heavy blankets.

• Avoid tobacco during pregnancy and after birth. Smoking may be a cause of up to 25 percent of SIDS deaths.

• Vaccines protect against SIDS; all infants should receive all their vaccines on the recommended schedule, and family members should receive vaccines in order to protect the baby.

For more information, visit safesleepforme.org, safetosleep.nichd.nih.gov and cribsforkids.org.


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