In the 15-month period between January 2022 and early April 2023, a children’s hospital in Forth Worth, Texas, recorded 30 infant deaths due to co-sleeping or unsafe bedding — more than the combined total of deaths caused by drownings and gunshot wounds in the same period.
Most of the infant deaths pronounced at Cook Children’s Medical Center came from sleeping with one or more parents or caregivers, according to a press release from the hospital and The Dallas Morning News. Hospital records show that numerous other conditions led to respiratory failure or cardiac arrest, resulting in infants’ deaths, “including babies placed on a pillow with a propped bottle, in the crib with a blanket or pillow, in a recliner or on the couch next to a sleeping adult, or wearing a loose T-shirt that covered their face.”
The spike in deaths was the highest the hospital has seen in the last decade and a half, according to Cook’s Children’s Medical Center trauma injury prevention coordinator Sharon Evans.
More than half of the 30 infants who died were Black boys between the ages of 2 months and 6 months, according to hospital’s data.
Well-meaning parents sometimes keep babies close to them during naps or at night because they think it’s safer, according to a video about safe sleep habits from Cook Children’s Medical Center. Also, breastfeeding mothers and exhausted parents sometimes share their bed because it seems easier or more efficient — or they lie down next to a snoozing baby and accidentally drift off to sleep themselves.
“Nobody intentionally does it,” Evans said. “I don’t think any of the parents who are co-sleeping feel like there’s any danger.”
Some families could be disproportionately impacted because of the inability to afford a separate sleep space for infants, like cribs or bassinets, and overcrowding in households that means everyone sleeps in the same bed, according to Candle Johnson, a nurse practitioner at Cook Children’s Renaissance Neighborhood Clinic in south Forth Worth.
Cook’s Children Hospital is using the spate of tragic deaths to sound the alarm about the risks of co-sleeping with infants and to educate the public about safe sleeping practices.
But from birth to 12 months, parents should follow a number of guidelines to prevent suffocation deaths, experts say. Caregivers or parents should sleep in the same room but not the same bed as the baby — the idea is “room sharing without bed sharing.”
Infants should be placed in a bassinet or crib that is free of crib bumpers, bedding or toys. The sheet should fit tightly — loose bedding can end up wrapped around a baby’s neck or face, leading to suffocation — and the mattress should be firm and flat.
Babies should always be put down to sleep on their backs, not on their stomachs or sides. Similarly, parents or caregivers should not use a wedge to prop babies up or to keep them on their sides.
If parents are concerned about keeping babies warm, they should dress them in footed pajamas or sleep sacks.
Experts also now warn against the common practice of swaddling infants, saying that it can lead to overheating, hip dysplasia and respiratory infections.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that approximately 3,400 sleep-related deaths occur among American infants every year.