Sudden Infant Death Syndrome - Part 1

While no one knows a cause of SIDS for sure, experts have found contributing risk factors like unsafe sleeping.

BAKERSFIELD, CA - It happens too often. Parents wake up to a nightmare. They find the seemingly healthy baby they put to bed, is dead in their crib the next morning.

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or Sudden Unexplained Infant Death Syndrome is the leading cause of death among infants up to a year in age, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Four babies in Kern County have already died of SIDS this year.

While no one knows a cause of SIDS for sure, experts have found contributing risk factors like unsafe sleeping.

Keashia Coleman gave birth to Premiere James on September 28, 2002.

"It just felt like a dream at the moment," said Coleman.

Just seven months later, Coleman would lay her daughter to rest for the final time in a grave. The cause of death: Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

"All I remember is hearing someone screaming and by the time I got off the ground I realized who it was. It was me because that's something that is very unbelievable," said Coleman.

Premiere's death certificate shows she was found in a bassinet with a blanket on her stomach, which is considered an unsafe sleeping condition. It's one of the risk factor of SIDS, the mysterious and fatal syndrome that took Premiere.

"It says my baby was left in the living room area in a bassinet, by herself," Coleman said crying.

Coleman is one of 4,000 mothers each year who loses a child to SIDS in the country.

Rose Cochran is the investigator for the Fetal Infant Mortality regional program.

"It is truly an undetermined death. These babies for all intents and purposes, should be alive. They really can't figure out why these babies are dying," said Cochran.

For 13 years, Cochran has been visiting local parents after a SIDS death.

"It doesn't matter. People kind of have the idea that you have to be poor. Death comes knocking at your door no matter where you live," said Cochran.

Her goal is to offer comfort and educate parents on 'safe to sleep' methods.

It's a campaign that began in the early 1990's, stressing caregivers put babies through the age of one, on their backs to sleep, not their stomachs or sides.

It warns sleeping with children and the addition of blankets, stuffed animals, and baby bumpers in the crib can increase the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, especially during the peak age of two to four months.

It's a constant battle against movies and television shows seen in masses featuring unsafe sleeping conditions and retailers that elaborately display cribs online and in stores.

"Marketing does a wonderful job at brainwashing everybody. They can buy those things. I'm not saying they can't, but when a baby goes into those things for even a two-minute nap, it all has to come out," said Cochran.

It's recommended babies sleep in a Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association approved crib or play pack, on a firm mattress with nothing more than a fitted sheet, and wear a seasonal onesie. Babies wearing hats to bed are nine times more likely to die of SIDS.

Since the 'Safe to Sleep' campaign, the number of SIDS deaths in California dropped from 800 a year in the 1980's to 164 last year. Thirteen of those babies were from Kern County. But, those numbers have held steady the last five years.

"For any parent who has lost a child I tell them all of the time, trust me, it gets worse before it gets easier. You know, you have to hold onto something," said Coleman. 

"I think we are making a difference. We are still seeing the deaths, but I would hate to see where it would be at if we gave up," said Cochran. 

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Bakersfield, CA