Officials: Co-sleeping, cluttered cribs, top accidental deaths for LA County children (video)

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Los Angeles County officials launched an aggressive campaign Wednesday to convince parents to change their sleeping habits with their babies, saying unsafe sleep conditions are by far the leading cause of accidental deaths for children under 14.

Public Health officials said a baby suffocates while sleeping every five days in Los Angeles County. The statistics are based on coroner records from 2008-2012.

“It has become clear that the tragic deaths from unsafe sleeping practices are completely preventable,” said Deanne Tilton Durfee, executive director for the Inter-Agency Council on Child Abuse and Neglect, one of the agencies spearheading the effort.

Among examples listed by officials as unsafe sleep environments for infants were cluttered cribs, couches, and bed-sharing — a practice recommended by some attachment-parenting advocates to help mothers bond with their infants and ease the strain of night nursing.

The campaign takes aim at this practice, urging parents to “share a room with your baby, not a bed.”

When the numbers are broken out, coroner investigations reveal that unsafe sleeping is a common cause of death for healthy babies, with 38 percent of these deaths being attributed to parents sharing a bed with their baby. Nearly one quarter were due to suffocation from things like couches, pillows, soft or excessive bedding and stuffed animals.

African-Americans were disproportionately affected. They make up only 9 percent of the county population, but officials said 26 percent of the victims of child deaths due to bed-sharing or unsafe sleep were African-Americans children. Latino babies were the most common victims, comprising 39 percent of the total.

“Too often we hear from grieving parents, ‘No one ever told me how I could have avoided the death of my baby from unsafe sleep.’ Parents and caregivers must be made aware of these risks so that no one wakes up to this tragedy again,” said Tilton Durfee.

The “Safe Sleep for Baby Campaign” instructs parents and caregivers on the correct way to put a baby to sleep to avoid suffocation risks or accidental death. They said a baby should be sleep in a crib, alone, on her back. They advise no blankets, pillows or toys.

The new campaign includes dramatic public service announcements that will run on TV and radio. The TV ad shows the faces of babies who have died and cuts to a 911 call from a mother shouting “she’s not breathing! She’s not breathing!” The next shot: a coroner’s gurney with a body bag. 

Do you agree that co-sleeping is hazardous to babies? Let us know in the comments.