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Contact: Adam Joseph

February 20, 2015

Preventing Infant Deaths: Senate Democrats Joined by Doctors & Child Advocate to Promote Safe Sleep Legislation

Senate President Martin M. Looney (D-New Haven) and Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D- Norwalk) were joined today by doctors, legislators and the state’s Child Advocate to push for legislation requiring hospitals to provide information about safe sleep practices to parents of newborns before they bring their child home from the hospital.

“Each year, more than a dozen Connecticut children die needlessly due to unsafe sleep practices,” said Senator Looney. “By educating parents before they leave the hospital following their child’s birth, we can potentially influence the parents’ behavior and possibly save a child’s life.”

“Evidence shows that despite previous public service campaigns, many parents are still unaware of the latest safe sleep practices,” said Senator Duff. “This legislation will ensure that parents are alerted to the most recent recommendations, including having the baby sleep in a crib without blankets. Anyone who is a parent can see the wisdom in this common-sense initiative.”

According to the State Child Fatality Review Panel’s 2013 report reviewing infant and toddler deaths in Connecticut, infants are more likely to die from unsafe sleeping conditions than from child abuse or from accidental injury, including car accidents, choking, drowning or falls.

“The importance of new parents hearing consistent information about a safe sleep environment cannot be overstated,” said Dr. Kirsten Bechtel, Associate Professor of Pediatric Emergency Medicine at Yale University School of Medicine. “This information should be consistently delivered and reinforced to parents by health care providers, starting at the time of newborn hospital discharge and through the first year of life during routine health maintenance visits.”

“It has become clear that it is an extremely rare event when an infant dies during sleep with no underlying medical or external risk factors, like co-sleeping or other unsafe sleep conditions,” said Dr. Michael J. Soltis a Pediatric Emergency Medicine Physician at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center in Hartford. “What this means is that these deaths are preventable. I feel that this bill is a critical step in preventing deaths of infants in Connecticut.”

“Over the last 12 years, the number of Connecticut infants who died where unsafe sleep conditions were present was almost three times the number of infants who died from child abuse,” said Sarah Eagan, the state’s Child Advocate. “Infants in Connecticut are more likely to die where unsafe sleeping conditions are present than from child abuse, car accidents, choking, drowning, falls, or any other source of accidental injury. These deaths are preventable, and a key strategy recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics is offering information and safe sleep strategies for new parents as part of primary care and hospital discharge. Information and support for parents can save children’s lives and prevent these tragic losses for families.”

“The death of any infant is a tragedy,” said Senator Joseph J. Crisco, Jr. (D-Woodbridge). “But what makes these deaths all the more heartbreaking is that they can almost certainly be prevented if parents follow the most up-to-date safe sleep practices. This important legislation will help achieve this by ensuring that all new parents are informed about safe sleep practices before their children leave the hospital.”

In 2013, there were at least 18 Connecticut children whose deaths were associated with unsafe sleep environments. The average age of these children at their time of death was three months old.

The most common unsafe sleep environments include the following:

  • Co-sleeping with parent(s) or siblings in an adult-size bed
  • Sleeping overnight in a car seat (outside of the vehicle)
  • Sleeping in a crib with blankets, pillows, or on their stomachs
  • Put to sleep with a bottle in an adult bed

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend the following safe sleep practices:

Always place babies on their backs for sleep; Use a firm sleep surface covered by a fitted sheet; Have the baby share the parent’s room, but not the parent’s bed; Keep soft objects, including pillows and loose bedding, out of a baby’s sleep area.

Although previous public service campaigns—such as the 1994” Back to Sleep” campaign—successfully taught parents to put their babies to bed on their backs, some of the more recent recommendations—including having the baby sleep in a crib without blankets—are less well known. Because many parents are not aware of these other safe sleep practices, they inadvertently place their babies in danger.

Here in Connecticut, both the Department of Public Health and Department of Children and Families have already taken major steps with regard to the implementation of and education about safe sleep practices. DPH regulations require Connecticut day care operators to place infants (under 12 months old) to bed on their backs in a crib or bed that is free of soft surfaces and objects such as pillows, quilts, soft bumpers or stuffed toys. Operators are also prohibited from placing children to sleep in car seats, infant carriers or swings, unless medically necessary.

In addition, DCF recently issued a safe sleep practice guide that is helping to inform parents of children involved with DCF. The guide requires DCF staff to provide educational information—including the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics—to all DCF-involved soon-to-be parents and parents of infants regarding safe sleep environments. DCF staff are also required to advise parents of infants that unsafe sleeping conditions is the leading cause of preventable deaths of infants in the state.

Connecticut would become the eighth state in the nation to enact such potentially life-saving requirements, joining California, Florida, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Nebraska, Texas and Michigan.


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Adam Joseph

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