(WAFF) - Nearly 3,500 babies die suddenly and unexpectedly each year. While many deaths have been prevented by having babies sleep on their backs, health experts are sounding a different alarm. This warning doesn't focus on how they sleep, but where they sleep.
Sophia Danneman lived for two months.
"She was a very happy baby. I would take pictures of her smiling. She brought so much joy to this family," said her mother, Sarah Danneman.
Sophia was having problems sleeping in her bassinet at her family's home in Birmingham. She wouldn't stop crying, so her parents decided to let her sleep with them. Sadly, Sophia died after suffocating on a sofa next to her father.
"It was co-sleeping that did it. And for that, I lost my daughter," Danneman said.
Lisa Carter investigates infant deaths for the Alabama Department of Health. She says co-sleeping deaths don't discriminate. They can happen to anyone.
"Because they're sleep-deprived, wake up, or other caregivers in the middle of the night, with the baby to feed them and then inadvertently fall asleep, sleep with them either in the bed or a recliner or a sofa and then are found unresponsive or dead," she said.
Carter said state health workers investigated 79 sleep-related infant deaths in north Alabama in 2014 through 2016.
Chief Deputy Coroner Tyler Berryhill said 35 percent of the sudden infant deaths in Madison County happened when children were placed in the bed with their parents or a caregiver. Berryhill says the parents almost always meant well but didn't realize the dangers of co-sleeping.
"They anticipate once the baby falls asleep we'll get up and gently place the baby in its crib. In some cases, the parents will fall asleep not knowing so much through the night, roll, and once that happens, sometimes the baby can get caught up underneath it and suffocate," he said.
Jeanette Atkinson is an education specialist in the Mother Baby Unit at Huntsville Hospital. She spends a lot of her time trying to educate parents about safe sleeping environments for their babies. For example, while blankets, pillows and stuffed animals are soft, they can be dangerous when placed in a crib.
"The baby could become entrapped, wedged between the wall or sheets or the individual sleeping with them, strangulation could happen, all these horrible things that you never think would happen to you," said Atkinson.
"If at any time the pillow or any of the sheets or the comforter were to get too close to the nose or mouth, it could be very difficult for the child to be able to free itself and cause suffocation," Berryhill said.
So what can parents do when their babies are upset and they're at the breaking point of exhaustion?
"The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends room sharing, not bed sharing. Having a crib in the room is actually recommended for the first six months and ideally up to a year," Atkinson said.
Carter says parents should keep this in mind. She says if they let their baby sleep in the same room, but not in the same bed, everyone can get more rest and lives will be saved.
There were 130 infant sleep-related deaths in Alabama in 2016.
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