Las Vegas Sun

September 2, 2014

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Public Safety:

Awareness effort continues to curb crib deaths throughout valley

Safe sleep tips

  • • Babies should sleep in their own crib or bassinet.
  • • The crib should contain a tight-fitting sheet but no other additional padding.
  • • Remove bumper pads, pillows, puffy blankets and stuffed animals from cribs or bassinets.
  • • Do not allow babies to sleep in beds with adults or siblings, twins included.
  • • Lie babies on their backs on a firm, safety-approved crib mattress.

A sleeping baby who moves the wrong way in an unsafe environment can suffocate in fewer than five minutes, becoming another preventable child death in Clark County, authorities say.

Last year, Metro Police investigated approximately 25 sleep-related deaths in the Las Vegas Valley, Sgt. Kristine Buist said. That’s a preliminary number and doesn’t include cases from Henderson and North Las Vegas, she added.

"I do not like going on those calls because they are so preventable,” said Buist, who works in Metro’s crimes against youth and family section. “I want parents to get this message and understand the best way to have their baby sleep is alone, on their back and (in a) bassinet or crib.”

Local law enforcement and health officials hope to increase awareness about unsafe sleeping environments this year through public-service announcements and a pilot program to be launched at University Medical Center later this year.

The Baby Safe Sleep program — created by the Southern Nevada Health District and the Nevada Institute for Children’s Research and Policy — will include asking new parents to watch a seven-minute video about safe-sleep environments before bringing their newborns home from the hospital, said Tara Phebus, executive director of the NICRP.

“Whatever we’re saying is safe for them at home is the same as when they’re in the hospital,” Phebus said, referring to the philosophy guiding the pilot program at UMC.

In 2007 and 2008, child deaths related to unsafe-sleeping environments peaked at 28, according to data from the Clark County Child Death Review Team, a multi-disciplinary group that meets monthly to review all fatalities under age 18. In 2011, there were 17 such deaths.

Buist, who investigates these cases, describes an unsafe sleeping environment as a place containing too much soft bedding or a situation in which a baby is sleeping in bed with parents.

She said parents often mistake co-sleeping as a way to bond with their infants when, in reality, it poses significant risks to babies whose breathing can be interrupted if shoved up next to a parent, bedding or wall.

“Because babies don’t have neck strength like adults do, when they get that obstructed airway, they’re not able to move their heads to get away from it,” she said. “If the parents (are) sleeping, they are not going to realize that’s what has occurred.”

Equally dangerous is piling a crib with plushy objects such as pillows, blankets and bumper pads, Buist said.

“Anything that’s fluffy or puffy or heavy is generally not a good environment to have a baby sleeping,” Buist said.

The city of Chicago banned the sale of crib bumper pads in 2011. Last year, the state of Maryland followed suit, proposing a similar ban on bumper pads that will go into effect in June.

Many unsafe sleep-related deaths involve infants 4 months or younger, but the risk remains for children beyond 1 year of age, Buist said. In mid-January, a 14-month-old Las Vegas toddler died because of an unsafe-sleeping environment, she said.

Jeanne Cosgrove Marsala, a registered nurse who is executive director of Safe Kids Clark County, said parents should follow safe-sleep recommendations regardless of an infant’s birth weight.

“Just because you have a 10-pound baby at birth doesn’t mean it’s automatically doing what 4-month-old babies do,” she said.

Marsala attributed the constant presence of infant sleep-related deaths — about one a month at least in Clark County — to the increased popularity of soft bedding and tougher economic times.

Although these deaths occur in all parts of the valley, Marsala said several involved families that didn’t have a separate sleeping place for their baby.

Cribs for Kids, a statewide program based in Washoe County, helps provide families in such situations with a “survival kit” that includes, among other items, a portable crib and fitted sheets, said Regina Washington, the community program coordinator. Cribs for Kids — an education-driven program — partners with several Clark County agencies, such as the Las Vegas Urban League and HELP of Southern Nevada, Washington said.

Buist said police responded to investigate sleep-related deaths but rarely charged parents or caregivers who, more often than not, did not realize they were doing wrong.

“It’s basically parents that really think they’re doing the right thing,” Buist said. “They’re trying to make their baby comfortable. They’re trying to keep their baby warm. They’re trying to bond with their baby.”

Above all, authorities say parents should avoid soft bedding and co-sleeping and consult the American Academy of Pediatrics for other recommendations.

“We have to remember crib mattresses are firm for a reason,” Marsala said.

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