Davidson County is marking a steep drop in infant sleep deaths. The number of infants who suffocated while sleeping dropped 29 percent in one year. So called “sleep-related deaths” dipped to 15 in 2016, representing one in five of all infant deaths. Anytime a baby dies, there’s an official review.
The infant mortality rate is a crucial indicator of the community’s health says the Health Department.
“It reflects not just the medical care surrounding pregnancy and childbirth, but also the social and economic strengths and stressors of women and families.”
Nationally, roughly 3,500 infants a year are lost to sleep-related death before their first birthday. Statewide, the figures jump around from year to year, but the most recent stats from 2015 show 142 sleep deaths in Tennessee, up from 99 the year before.
Many larger families just don’t have enough room for a baby to sleep alone, Allen-Robb says. That’s why the health department has been offering bassinets to families who are struggling to find a place for the baby to sleep. But most of the credit is going to a five-year-old marketing campaign that targets young parents as they leave the hospital. Nationally, it’s called the ABCs of safe sleep — alone, on the baby’s back and in a crib free of loose items.
Public health officials have focused on sleep deaths in part because most of them are entirely preventable and they are contributing to Tennessee’s elevated infant mortality rate, which is considerably higher than the national rate. Local hospitals have been focused on the issue as well.
By far, the lead contributing factor involves unsafe bedding. In 2016, Prevent Child Abuse Tennessee launched a program in 14 counties to offer so-called baby boxes or newborn nests to families where case workers found unsafe sleep environments.