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Message from the State Health Officer

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Follow Safe Sleep Practices to Protect Infants from Sudden Death

Every year in the United States, more than 3,500 otherwise healthy babies die suddenly and unexpectedly. Of these deaths, more than 2,300 are diagnosed as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), the leading cause of death for babies 1 month to 1 year of age. According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as many as 80 to 90 percent of infant deaths are caused by unsafe sleep practices.

SIDS is a medical disorder that claims the lives of infants younger than 1 year of age in the U.S. Once known as crib death, these infant deaths remain unexplained after all known causes have been ruled out through autopsy, death scene investigation, and medical review. SIDS affects families of all races, religions, and income levels. It occurs during sleep, and strikes without warning. Its victims appear to be healthy.

Sudden Unexpected Infant Death (SUID) is the sudden and unexpected death of an infant younger than 1 year of age. After a full investigation, however, the death may be diagnosed as having a contributing factor or underlying cause such as entrapment, accidental suffocation, cardiac arrhythmia, or a metabolic disease.

Unsafe Sleep is the category of infant death that occurs because of these causes:

  • Co-sleeping in a bed with others or from overlay
  • Suffocation from being placed to sleep on a pillow, soft bedding, or some type of unapproved device to elevate or position the infant
  • Strangulation from entrapment or wedging

Alabama Statistics

  • In 2014, there were 109 sleep-related deaths among infants less than 1 year of age.
     - Sleep-related infant deaths accounted for 21 percent of the total infant mortality rate.
     - The percentages of sleep-related infant deaths were higher among full-term, normal birth weight infants than infants with lower birth weights and gestational ages.
  • For the years from 2011 through 2014 
     - Infant sleep-related deaths were highest in the 1-month to 3-month age group, and bed sharing was the principal risk factor. 
     - For older infants, rolling into objects in the sleep area was the main risk factor.
     - The rate of sleep-related infant deaths for mothers 15 to 19 years of age was almost twice as high as the rate for moms ages 25 to 34.
     - Mothers with birth intervals less than two years apart had the highest percentage of sleep-related infant deaths.

We do not know exactly how or why SIDS happens, and there is no product that can prevent it. However, researchers have identified factors associated with reducing the risk of SIDS and recommend the following:

  • Place baby on his or her back to sleep at night and for naps.
  • Use a firm mattress, covered with only a sheet, in a safety approved crib.
  • Remove all soft and loose bedding from the baby's sleep area. This includes pillows, blankets, comforters, bumper pads, sheepskins, positioners, toys, and all other soft products.
  • Consider using a wearable blanket, or other type of sleeper, as a safe alternative to loose blankets.
  • Do not place the baby to sleep on a sofa, waterbed, pillow, soft mattress, or any other soft surface.
  • Keep the baby's face clear of coverings.
  • Be careful not to overheat the baby with excessive clothing, bedding, or elevated room temperature.
  • Do not allow anyone to smoke around the baby.
  • Educate babysitters, day care providers, grandparents, and everyone who cares for the baby about reducing the risk of infant death.

We urge parents and caregivers to learn about the risk factors that lead to the sudden deaths of infants, and act to help prevent needless loss of life.

Thomas M. Miller, M.D.
State Health Officer

(October 2016)

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