Infants’ deaths from unsafe sleeping far outpace other accidents

Nineteen infants died in two years in Snohomish County, when zero died from drownings or car crashes. Officials sounded the alarm this week.

The Safe Sleep Cheat Sheet shows what's safe for infants and what should be avoided. Photo provided by the Snohomish County Health Department.

EVERETT — More Snohomish County infants die from unsafe sleep practices than any other accidental cause, the county health department reported Monday.

The county lost 19 babies to sleep-related deaths over the course of two years starting in 2020, according to medical examiner records. No infants died from car crashes, drownings, falls, burns or any other accident during that time. Infants were defined as children 12 months and under.

October is Safe Sleep and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome Awareness month. The county’s Child Death Review and Prevention team, which tracks the issue and helps shape related policy, urged caregivers Monday to learn best practices, as most sleep-related deaths are preventable.

“Losing a child is tragic,” Wendy Burchill, the health department’s Child Death Review and Prevention coordinator, said in a press release. “After nearly 20 years of reviewing these infant deaths, I’ve seen the same risk factors in nearly all cases.”

Infants are at risk when they sleep outside a crib or bassinet — such as in a bed with adults — and if they sleep with soft bedding like pillows, comforters or plush toys. Infants should always sleep on their backs. Caregivers should avoid or limit infant sleep in car seats, strollers, swings, slings or with weighted sacks or blankets, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Burchill said misinformation about safe sleep practices is abundant. Many unsafe products are on the market, she said, and caregivers often underestimate the risks they are taking when they have their infants sleep with them in bed.

“The benefits absolutely do not outweigh the risks,” she said in an interview Monday. “The risk is death.”

The Safe Sleep for Babies Act, passed in 2022, banned products such as inclined sleepers and crib bumpers in the United States. Other recalled and potentially unsafe sleep-related products can be found on the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission website under the category “Babies and Kids.”

Burchill said she is pushing for a law requiring safe sleep conversations at all pediatric appointments.

“That is a point of intervention for trusted information,” she said. “It’s been a missed opportunity.”

The Northwest Infant Survival and SIDS Alliance provides free training and resources in its Safe Sleep University program. Burchill said the county will provide cribs for those in need who take a class.

“We don’t want that to be a barrier,” she said.

In addition, South County Fire is set to host a free child safety and CPR class at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 25, over Zoom.

Sydney Jackson: 425-339-3430;; Twitter: @_sydneyajackson.

Safe Sleep ABCs:

• Infants should sleep ALONE, not with their caregiver;

• Infants should sleep on their BACK;

• Infants should sleep in a CRIB or bassinet that meets current safety standards.

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