Special Report: Safe Sleeping

- BAKERSFIELD, CA - It's only April, but already this year seven Kern County infants, ranging in age from 13 days to four months, have died. A Channel 17 examination of coroner’s records found 21 very young children died in Kern last year. Most didn't die of sickness or in traffic accidents or by violence. Most deaths were associated with unsafe sleeping.

Two infant deaths were ruled accidental, one by asphyxia and one by strangulation. Another death was caused by a car crash, another by a natural medical condition. There was one infant homicide in 2014, one still is under investigation and 15 are classified “undetermined.”

Unsafe sleeping is noted in 17 of the 21 deaths, including all 15 cases of classified undetermined.

"Suffocation is often an issue,” said Dr. Philip Hyden, Medical Director of The Guilds Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Center at Valley Children’s Hospital. “A child may not be suffocated, but may be breathing back their own carbon dioxide, not getting enough oxygen in the airway because there's so much stuff in the crib."

Dr. Hyden also reviews child deaths in Kern County and says many infant deaths are preventable.

"The mom fell asleep,” Hayden said. “She rolled over on the baby, didn't crush the baby in any way, but kept the baby from being able to breathe. The mom wakes up the baby is cold and lifeless.”

It’s a big problem, said Rose Cochran, Kern County Department of Public Health Perinatal Investigator. "Sleep always beats you. It doesn't make you a bad parent, it makes you human."

Cochran provides community education on safe sleeping.

"I don't think any of these parents wake up and say well I'm going to intentionally put my baby to sleep and hurt them,” she said. “That's never what they're thinking. They're thinking, ‘I love my child and I want to do the best thing for them.’ They're actually parenting what they saw and what their parents did for them.”

For many parents, that means bringing the baby into bed. That can seem especially comforting to a fussy or sickly newborn who can't seem to sleep on their own. It's comforting for mom or dad, too, to cuddle with the new child, especially when the parent is exhausted by a long day followed by hours walking the floor with a crying infant.

Cochran says it's a dangerous habit parents often don't realize can be deadly. "We just kind of love them to death and it's always with the best intention."

Health experts say babies should sleep in a crib or play pen with a firm mattress and fitted sheet. There should be nothing in the crib but the baby, no pillows, blankets, stuffed animals or bumpers. Your baby should be placed on his or her back and nothing should cover their head.

Experts say it’s imperative for infants to have their own sleep area. In many of these deaths, families didn't have a crib.

You can help local babies have a safe place to sleep. A play pen that doubles as a crib can be purchased for as little as $39. They can be purchased through Amazon and Walmart. Items can be sent to Kern County Network for Children, 1212 18th St., Bakersfield, CA 93301.

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