When Blankets and Toys Become Weapons: New Parents, This is a Plea for You

By Lihinie deAlmeida, MD

It all seems so harmless.

Your little one has been fed, she is wearing a fresh diaper and it’s time for bed. When she finally falls asleep, she’s on her stomach and cuddled up with her favorite lovey, sleeping more soundly than she has in days—she just looks so peaceful right now!

But, in the back of your mind, you hear your pediatrician reminding you about the ABCs of safe sleep: She should be Alone, on her Back and in her Crib.

You wonder to yourself if it’s really a big deal if you let her sleep on her belly this one time, but what if that “no big deal” mindset means the difference in life and death?

In Georgia, there are about three sleep-related infant deaths every week, meaning three babies don’t wake up from their naps or nighttime sleep. You think that statistic couldn’t get any more horrifying, but it does: Many of those deaths are preventable.

Safe Sleep

After a harrowing string of months in which our team at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta saw case after case of infants discovered not breathing at home while co-sleeping with family members, sleeping in a loved one’s arms or sleeping with blankets or pillows, our Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) physicians decided to do something about it. We’ve unleashed an awareness campaign that starts with these five tips:

  1. Don’t share a bed with your baby.
    • Nine out 10 SIDs deaths could have been avoided if a parent or caregiver did not share a bed with a child (British Medical Journal, May 2013).
    • Room-sharing, which is advised, is a great alternative to bed-sharing. You can quickly respond to your baby if they’re sleeping near your bed in a bassinet or crib.
  2. Make sure your baby sleeps on her back.
    • Babies might not seem to sleep as soundly on their backs, but they will sleep more safely. In the five years after the American Academy of Pediatrics ruled in 1996 that “back is best,” there was a 56 percent drop in SIDs deaths.
    • Most of a baby’s heat escapes from their foreheads, so ensuring they lie flat on their backs helps decrease the risk of hyperthermia.
  3. Keep the crib empty.
    • While soft mattresses, crib bumpers, quilts, blankets and toys may look cozy, they can be dangerous. Remove anything that could cover your infant’s face or neck. This can help prevent suffocation, hyperthermia and asphyxiation.
  4. Don’t sleep with a baby in your arms.
    • Falling asleep with your baby on your chest while lying on a couch or in a comfy chair poses an “extraordinarily high risk of infant death” for babies under 1 year old (American Academy of Pediatrics, October 2016).
    • The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents who fear they’ll fall asleep during late-night feedings should feed their baby in their bed (cleared of extra blankets and pillows), instead of on a couch.
  5. Remind others that rules have changed.
    • Parents of infants should always heed the advice of their pediatrician first. Research findings change over time, so what may have worked for your parents (or you), may not be what’s clinically advised at this time.