According to the Bradley County Medical Examiner’s Office, 10 infants have died as the result of possible accidental asphyxiation or sudden infant death syndrome since November 2011.
The state of Tennessee will be launching a public awareness campaign to alert parents of newborns and how to “lay them down at sleep time,” according to Eric Blach, of the local ME’s office.
“We have all done it,” he said of ways parents may have unknowingly put their infants at risk by cuddling or sleeping with them.
At least six cases under investigation in Bradley County involving infant deaths are suspected asphyxiation.
“We have not concluded these cases yet, but investigation of those six cases indicated the cause of death as asphyxiation and the infant sleeping with one or both parents,” Blach said.
Positional asphyxiation occurs when the airway is cut off or obstructed due to head and neck positioning.
Infant carriers are positioned with the infant slanted so as not to cause their head to fall forward and diminish or cut breathing capability.
Blach said one local infant death occurred when the parent and infant were sleeping on a couch. Positional asphyxia was the cause when the infant became “wedged,” reports said.
In another case, a parent had slept with an infant and pressure from the parent’s leg being on the infant was determined as the cause of death. Blach determined “overlaying” as the actual factor. In some of the cases, both parents had been asleep with the infant.
“An unsafe sleep environment for an infant can mean several things. Since we have worked to try to avoid classifying SIDS as the cause of infant death and gotten deeper into investigation through autopsy and scene visitation, we can rule out SIDS in a number of cases and find a real cause. This is what we are finding out,” Blach said.
“Most infant deaths are preventable if you follow the ABCs,” he added.
The primary message for parents and others who care for infants is to “Remember the ABCs of Safe Sleep.” There are three critical measures to follow when it is time for an infant to sleep, according to Blach and the Tennessee Department of Health.
n “A” is for Alone: always let the baby sleep alone, never in a bed with another person where the baby could be smothered.
n “B” is for on the baby’s Back; an infant should be placed to sleep on his or her back, not on his or her side or stomach.
n “C” is for Crib: always put your child to sleep in a crib with only a firm mattress and tight-fitting sheet.
“Nothing ... no pacifier, covering, pillows, toys, bottles, bumper pads — [place] nothing in the crib other than the infant. That is what we are finding that parents need to do,” Blach said.
“An infant doesn’t have the strength to tell a parent when something is wrong. They sometimes can’t make a noise and warn a parent,” he restated.
TDH has also created a dedicated website for the A-B-C program at safesleep.tn.gov.
“While we’re trying to reach as many current and soon-to-be parents as possible, we also want to reach out to grandparents, aunts and uncles, older siblings — anyone who might be responsible when it’s an infant’s bedtime,” said Michael Warren, MD, MPH, FAAP, TDH Family Health & Wellness director, said. “It takes only a few seconds to put a baby into an empty crib on its back for safe sleeping, but those few seconds are so important. Just remember to follow your A-B-Cs and you might save a life.”
Blach is a member of Bradley County Emergency Medical Service as well as one of the medical examiners locally. He is a board certified fellow of the American Board of Legal Medical Investigators, only one of three in the state of Tennessee.