KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Seven infants have died in Kansas City, Missouri, this year due to unsafe sleeping conditions, according to KCPD.
Now, area child advocates are stepping up education efforts to try to prevent any more infant deaths.
The latest incidents happened on March 28, when police responded to two separate calls in which a mother appeared to have accidentally rolled over and suffocated her infant while sleeping next to the child in bed.
That scenario is fairly common among all sleep-related infant deaths in Kansas and Missouri.
Kansas had 43 sleep-related infant deaths in 2018, according to the Kansas State Child Death Review Board. There were 89 such deaths in Missouri, according to the Missouri Child Fatality review program.
In both states, more than 75% of those deaths happened when the baby was sleeping somewhere other than its crib.
Experts say such deaths are preventable, but it starts with making sure parents and guardians are educated about safe sleep practices.
"It's more about what isn't in the crib than what is — and what we want is baby in that crib, and only baby," Tracy Russell, executive director of Nurture KC, said.
Nurture KC is an organization that works to reduce infant death and improve family health throughout the Kansas City area.
Shannon Williams runs the Healthy Start program for Nurture KC. She has a simple mnemonic device to help parents and caregivers remember what a safe sleeping environment looks like — just think of your ABCs:
- A: The infant should be Alone;
- B: Place the infant on its Back;
- C: Place the infant in a Crib.
Williams said the baby should not have adults or other children in its sleeping space and should always be on its back, which significantly reduces the risk of SIDS.
Finally, the baby should always sleep in a crib with a firm mattress, and the crib should be empty, other than the baby —including no stuffed animals, loose blankets, pillows, or bed bumpers, until the baby is at least 12 months old.
Keeping the baby's crib in the same room as the parent's bed is OK, even encouraged, Williams said. Swaddles and wearable blankets are also acceptable, but anything soft or loose in the crib could potentially suffocate the baby.
These rules apply to both nighttime and nap time, according to Amy Terreros, pediatric nurse practitioner at Children's Mercy Hospital.
"A lot of parents and caregivers make a distinction between nap time being a shorter time, so they think it's safe for that infant to be on the adult bed or on a couch or on their belly," Terreros said. "All of those things are still unsafe, even if it's just for 15 minutes. It doesn't take that long for this to happen."
Russell noted that some of these sleep practices, like sharing a bed, may be passed down culturally through generations. However, she said it is important to break these habits to prevent a tragedy.
"We understand that they want baby close by, and that can absolutely happen, just make sure that they're in a separate space," she said. "That's the best thing you can do as a parent to protect your infant."
Russell said it's also important to make sure everyone caring for the baby, like grandparents or babysitters, know these rules.
If you need help obtaining a crib or other infant necessities, there are several resources available.
Missouri residents can apply for the Safe Cribs for Missouri program by calling 1-800-835-5465.
The national organization Cribs for Kids also has a database with more resources available in each state.