'Unsafe sleep conditions' cause of spike in deaths of children in Arizona

PHOENIX -- A new report today shows a sharp spike in young children Arizona who die because of the way and where they're put to bed.

The Child Fatality Review Program found that 85 infants died last year due to what are called "unsafe sleep conditions.' That's a 30 percent increase from the prior year.

And it also comes despite multi-year efforts by the state Department of Health Services to educate parents.

But Dr. Mary Rimsza, a pediatrician, said the numbers show much more may need to be done.

The new report also found:

- A big decline in motor vehicle crash deaths between 2013 and 2014;

- Child suicides increased from 25 in 2013 to 28 in 204;

- Fewer children killed in homicides;

- More drowning deaths.

Of particular note is the conclusion in the report that most of those sleep deaths are preventable.

Fully half are caused by "co-sleeping,' where children are in bed with their parents.

"They usually suffocate,' Rimsza said.

"And they suffocate because the bed's too soft, and there's other materials in the bed, some blankets and pillows,' she continued. Other times there are other people in the bed "and they roll over on them and suffocate them.'

Rimsza said there also are incidents where infants get caught between the side of the bed and the frame.

She said there are all sorts of reasons parents make that decision.

"We understand that it's very tough when you've got a crying baby and you just want to get them to sleep,' she said. "Or maybe they fall asleep with you while you're feeding them, you think, 'Oh, I don't want to move this kid.' '

But Rimsza had a simple message: Don't do it.

"You can certainly keep them in your own room,' she said. "You can put them beside the bed, maybe in a Pack 'n Play, or even sleeping on the floor with something around them so they could move around.'

Rimsza said the situation is most critical in children who are very young.

"This happens almost exclusively in kids under a year -- and usually under four months, because that when they can't roll over,' she said.

The solution, said Rimsza, is continuous education.

"There's new parents every day,' she said. "They may hear from others that certain sleep positions are OK or they just may not think about the risk of the issue or understand it.'

The other part of the problem, said Rimsza, is when infants are being taken care of by grandparents or other older caregivers.

"They may have learned to do something differently,' she said, whether it's where to put a child to sleep, what position to put the child and even what else can be in the crib. But Rimsza said that research in the last decades has shown that what used to be written off as unexplained "sudden infant death syndrome' or even "crib deaths' were really suffocations.

"The best situation is to have them in a crib, bassinet, Pack 'n Play, whatever, (with a) flat, hard surface,' she said.

They should be in their own pajamas, with no need for a blanket in most circumstances.

"There shouldn't be any toys in there with them,' Rimsza continued. And she said that "bumpers' around the inside of cribs, which have been popular in the past, also should be avoided.

"I remember buying them myself for my kids,' she recalled. "That's something else that they can get caught in.'

Rimsza said the Child Fatality Review Program has some services of its own designed to help.

For example, she said one helps parents who cannot afford any type of safe crib or similar place for a baby to sleep. But she said none of that does any good if a parent doesn't use it.

Rimsza attributed the decline in motor vehicle accidents among children to two factors.

On one end of the scale, she pointed to various laws which require not just safety seats for infants but now booster seats for somewhat older children. These seats are designed to keep them from either sliding out from under seat belts made for adults or from getting strangled by the belts.

At the other extreme, Rimsza pointed to "graduated license' laws.

These laws generally preclude teens younger than 18 from driving between midnight and 5 a.m., though there are exceptions, like driving to school or work, or if a parent or guardian who has a driver's license is present.

Anyone licensed for less than six months cannot have more than one other person younger than 18 in the vehicle. Siblings are excepted, as are situations with a parent in the vehicle.

On Twitter: @azcapmedia

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