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Preventing Infant Sleep Deaths: What You Can Do Right Now

Children's Health
Author name: Lee Health


sleep graphic

Each year, more than 3,500 sudden unexpected infant deaths (SUID) happen in the United States. These deaths occur among infants less than a year old and have no immediately obvious cause.

The Child Advocacy experts at Lee Health and Cribs for Kids are on a mission to prevent infant sleep-related deaths.

How? By educating parents and caregivers on the importance of practicing safe sleep for their babies, answers Vilmarie Colon, a Safe Kids Injury Prevention Educator and Lee Health’s Safe Sleep program lead with Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida.

Vilmarie says continued education and community support are keys to getting parents to adopt safe sleep practices.

“A key opportunity for new parents to learn about the importance of safe sleep practices is in our hospitals,” she says. “By creating safe sleep environments for babies in our obstetrics and neonatal intensive care units, we can help parents transition to a safe home sleep environment for their infants.”

Cribs for Kids National Safe Sleep Hospital Certification Program recognizes hospitals and hospital systems for their commitment to infant safe sleep to reduce the risk of SUID, accidental suffocation and strangulation in bed (ASSB), sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), and unsafe sleep injuries.

The program is based on evidence-based policies of the American Academy of Pediatrics and consultation with medical experts from the academy’s Safe Sleep Task Force.

So far, the mission seems to be a success if leading by example is any indicator. Cape Coral Hospital, HealthPark Medical Center and Golisano Children’s Hospital continue to work hard to maintain their Gold Certification. Since 2019, each hospital has earned certification as a Safe Sleep Champion.

That means the locations have earned the highest possible certification from the National Safe Sleep Hospital Certification Program for their commitment to best practices and education on infant safe sleep.

The National Safe Sleep Hospital Certification Program

The National Safe Sleep Hospital Certification Program aims to prevent infant, sleep-related deaths due to accidental suffocation. Unsafe sleep practices are the leading cause of preventable death for infants in Southwest Florida, according to Vilmarie. Unfortunately, she adds, that number is increasing.

“One of our goals is to educate new parents about safe sleep practices before they leave the hospital so they can create the best possible environment for their newborns,” she says. “The program ensures every parent has a safe place to put their babies to sleep. If they don’t have a place or can’t afford to buy a crib, the program will connect them with other organizations that can provide them with portable cribs at no cost.”

Sleep safety facts

  • Unintentional suffocation is the leading cause of injury-related death among children under one year old.
  • Nearly 3,500 infants die each year in the United States from sleep-related infant deaths.
  • Causes of sleep-related infant deaths include suffocation, entrapment, strangulation and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

Source: Safe Kids Worldwide (

An unsafe sleep environment can be created when babies share their beds with either another person or with excess blankets or toys.

“Suffocation occurs when a baby isn’t able to breathe because it’s lying in a position where something is blocking the baby’s airflow," Vilmarie explains. “This can be caused by an adult or child rolling over onto the baby. It can also occur if something soft, such as a blanket, pillow, sheet or the mattress itself, blocks the baby’s airway.”

She says a simple way to prevent this is to follow the “ABC” method for creating a safe sleep environment.

  • A – Alone. Infants should always sleep alone. Have the baby share your room, not your bed.
  • B – On their Back. Place your baby on his or her back for all sleep times – naps and at night.
  • C – In a Crib. Use a firm sleep surface, such as a mattress in a safety-approved crib.

First, make sure your crib is up-to-date

  • Check that your crib meets the safety standards of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA), and make sure it has all the right pieces.
  • If you can fit a can of soda between the slats of a crib, that means a child’s head, hand or foot could get stuck.
  • If the sides go down, don’t use the crib.
  • We know that stuffed animals, bumpers and all those cute accessories make a baby’s crib seem warm and cozy. Unfortunately, they can often do more harm than good. A firm mattress covered with a tight-fitting crib sheet is all you need to make your baby sleep like a baby.
  • Corner posts of the crib should not stick up more than one-sixteenth of an inch. It doesn’t seem like much, but anything more can be risky.
  • Check to make sure there are no design cutouts on the headboard or footboard.
  • If you are getting a used crib, check to see if it has been recalled at

Help Your Baby Sleep Safely

  • Lay your baby on his or her back to reduce the risk of SIDS.
  • If you’re worried about keeping your baby warm on those cold winter nights, try using a sleep sack (wearable blanket).
  • Babies should not sleep on beds, sofas, recliners, chairs, soft surfaces, bouncy chairs or baby swings. If this happens, make sure to return your baby to a safe sleep environment.
  • New parents have a million things to do, but learning CPR should be at the top of the list. It will give you tremendous peace of mind – and the more peace of mind you have as a parent, the better.

Position Your Child’s Crib or Bed in the Right Place

  • Avoid placing a crib, bed, highchair or playpen near windows, draperies, blinds, or wall-mounted decorative accessories with cords.
  • Avoid hanging anything on or above a baby’s crib on a string or cord.
  • Room sharing is a safer option than having your baby sleep in bed with you. Place your baby’s crib, play yard or bassinet in your room for more convenient feeding and close contact.
  • Remember to always return your baby to his or her own crib when you’re ready to go back to sleep. This is tough sometimes because parents are often more tired than the babies, but it is much safer.

For more information, call the Golisano Children’s Hospital’s Child Advocacy department at 239-343-5101.

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