Huntsville police seeing rise in baby deaths from accidental suffocation, strangulation

Huntsville police seeing rise in baby deaths from accidental suffocation, strangulation

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - The statistics are staggering. More than 3,500 sleep-related deaths involving babies every year. Some of those are SIDS related - or sudden infant death syndrome. There’s another cause though that Huntsville police are seeing more of and they say the deaths they’re investigating could be prevented.

Alexis Marks recently delivered her second baby. When he’s older, she’ll tell him the story about why he came into this world a few days early.

“There’s somebody standing on the passenger side with a gun. He shoots him. I run my happy pregnant self into the house and I called 911 and it brought me here,” said new mother Alexis Marks.

Marks ended up at Madison Hospital where she gave birth to her son Kylan. Today, she’s no longer focused on the situation she witnessed that put her into labor, but instead, on taking care of her little man.

Alexis learned the ABC’s of safe child sleep after her first baby was born.

“Don’t lay them with anything they can cuddle up to and smother on whether it’s a blanket or a teddy bear,” said Marks.

While Alexis knows the drill by memory, Huntsville police Sgt. Jack Pugh says not every parent follows protocol.

“Parents tend to want to make them comfortable and put other things in the crib with them,” said Pugh.

Huntsville Police Department’s Major Crimes Unit catches three to five cases of infant death a year. Pugh said Major Crimes has already worked that many in under a month.

“Infant deaths are extremely hard especially when you have no visible sign of neglect or injury. Sometimes in the autopsy’s they’ll find there is a medical condition but it’s very rare that they find that. Most of the time it’s undetermined. So the only thing you can really point to is sleeping conditions,” said Pugh.

Accidental suffocation and strangulation in bed happens when something limits a baby’s breathing, like when soft bedding or blankets are against their face or when a baby gets trapped between two objects, such as a mattress and wall. Among babies, accidental suffocation is responsible for three-fourths of all unintentional injury deaths. Most ASSB deaths occur between birth and 4 months of age.

Renee Colquitt is a neonatal practitioner and Director of Perinatal Services at Huntsville Hospital.

“Sudden unexpected infant death and those usually have to do with unsafe sleep environments. Babies on the couch or someone’s arms that has fallen asleep. Maybe the baby gets wedged between them in the chair. Also with other children sleeping in the bed, pets that can suffocate the infant,” said Colquitt.

When it comes to what’s best for baby Lisa Carter with the Alabama Department of Public health says lay your baby on it’s back and make sure there’s no bedding or soft items in the crib.

“If we were to prevent all cases of unsafe sleep in the state of Alabama our infant mortality rate would be almost average and we have one of the worst in the country,” said Carter.

Before leaving the hospital new parents are shown how to use a wearable sleep sack which replaces blankets that can cover baby’s face. They are also given a book written by a pediatrician who lost a child to unsafe sleep practices. Colquitt says education is key to making sure another baby doesn’t become a statistic.

“It’s very sad you give them all the tools they need to have a safe sleep environment for their baby and then when those are not followed their baby ends up dying because of that. It’s very tragic because it could have been prevented,” said Colquitt.

More than 85 percent of all deaths from accidental suffocation and strangulation in bed occur from birth to 6 months of age. Those numbers could be drastically reduced if parents placed babies on his or her back to sleep, for naps and at night. If you share your room with baby, keep baby close to your bed, on a separate surface designed for infants. Use a firm and flat sleep surface, such as a mattress in a safety-approved crib, covered by a fitted sheet with no other bedding or soft items in the sleep area.

Do not put pillows, blankets, sheepskins, or crib bumpers anywhere in your baby’s sleep area. Dress your baby in sleep clothing, such as a wearable blanket. Do not use a loose blanket and do not over bundle.

Pugh says of the cases recently investigated by his department these baby deaths could have been easily prevented.

“Last month it was 3 girls perfectly healthy. When you put them in this situation of putting a blanket or something in the crib it doesn’t seem dangerous but it doesn’t take much for an infant that size to become compromised and become unresponsive,” said Pugh.

While hospitals teach parents the tricks of the trade when it comes to safe sleep Carter says it’s not always about education. She says accidents happen especially when parents are young and have a new baby to care for.

“I think that for whatever reason parents are making decisions because they are sleep deprived, it’s easier, various circumstances are coming up,” said Carter.

In 2016, there were 26 sleep related deaths in Alabama. The number dropped off slightly in 2018 from 23 percent to 17 percent. With this uptick in infant deaths in Madison County alone, Carter says there’s reason for concern.

“The reality is in cases as the officers have told us and shared with us as nurses is that 9 times out of 10 when they go into the home they will find a bassinet, a pack and play, a crib but that’s not where the baby has been placed” said Carter.

Carter says if parents will follow the ABC’s of safe child sleep, the number of infant deaths from suffocation and strangulation will go down drastically.

“Alone in their own bed in their own crib on their back. I can’t imagine as a parent having a baby that dies and having to live with that the rest of your life. The majority of these cases, in fact most, are not intentional. I think sometimes as parents we aren’t making the best choices. We want families to know the importance of putting that baby in a sleep safe environment” said Carter.

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