Blankets, bed-sharing common in accidental baby suffocations

Study published in Pediatrics shows SIDS declining, but other issues on rise

CHICAGO – Accidental suffocation is a leading cause of injury deaths in U.S. infants and common scenarios involve blankets, bed-sharing with parents and other unsafe sleep practices, an analysis of government data found.

These deaths "are entirely preventable. That's the most important point," said Dr. Fern Hauck, a co-author and University of Virginia expert in infant deaths.

Among 250 suffocation deaths, roughly 70 percent involved blankets, pillows or other soft bedding that blocked infants' airways. Half of these soft bedding-related deaths occurred in an adult bed where most babies were sleeping on their stomachs.

Almost 20 percent suffocated when someone in the bed accidentally moved against or on top of them, and about 12 percent died when their faces were wedged against a wall or mattress.

The authors studied 2011-2014 data from a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention registry of deaths in 10 states. The results offer a more detailed look at death circumstances than previous studies using vital records, said lead author Alexa Erck Lambert, a CDC researcher.

The authors said anecdotal reports suggest there's been little change in unsafe sleep practices in more recent years.

"It is very, very distressing that in the U.S. we're just seeing this resistance, or persistence of these high numbers," Hauck said.

The study was published Monday in Pediatrics.


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