Your new baby is home from the hospital, and you are so excited. That little bundle of joy is such a blessing but a lot of work. So, you haul out all of that gear that you were gifted at your baby shower. Bibs, bottles, bassinets, bouncy seats abound. But wait. What was it the doctor said? Make sure the baby sleeps in her bassinet or crib? But what about the adorable swing you just opened? The package said it was inspected and approved for use, so it must be safe, right? Wrong.
As a pediatrician at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health, I often hear parents share this line of thinking. Unfortunately, what the baby stores and manufacturers don’t tell you is that while their products are inspected for flaws and dangers, one danger is often overlooked. That danger is the risk of a sleep related death. While these products may be safe for use while the baby is awake and being closely monitored, the risk of suffocation or strangulation is a very real concern if a baby is left to sleep unattended in many of these devices.
Car seat deaths in particular have come into public focus here in central Indiana. In the past two years, we have had five infants die in Central Indiana from suffocation while sleeping in their car seats. We also know that there have been near misses, where infants have come into our hospital after being found unconscious in their car seats.
How does this happen? Infants have low muscle tone, and so when they are put in a device such as a car seat, bouncy seat or swing, where they are intentionally at an angle, they are at risk to slide down and slump, causing their airway to be compromised. They may block their airway, or they may be strangled by the straps. In a car seat in particular, when the seat is in the vehicle and it is installed correctly, the infant is safe, and is positioned correctly. The problem happens when the infant seat is removed from the car and set down elsewhere. The seat is no longer in the correct position, and the infant’s airway becomes at risk.
For sleep, the best thing to do is start your baby off right by having them sleep flat in a crib or bassinet from the beginning, and follow the ABC’s. A: baby should be sleeping “All by myself”, not in bed with anyone else, B: on my back, never on her tummy, and C: in my Crib.
Also, please remember to keep the crib empty. There should be nothing in the bed but the baby. This means no bumpers, blankets, toys, pillows, etc. Sleep sacks are a great way to keep baby warm without using blankets. If your baby is older and you aren’t sure how to make this work, talk to your pediatrician. Most babies can be taught to sleep this way with a little perseverance and love.
-- By Kimberly Schneider, MD
Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health