Child fatality team warns against co-sleeping with infants

Friday, May 22, 2009

A Cape Girardeau County team tasked with reviewing child fatalities has discussed the issue of "co-sleeping" at length at its meetings, which are held several times each year, unit members said Thursday.

In 2007, there were 50 Missouri infants who died unexpectedly in their sleep that were sharing a bed with a parent or sibling, according to statistics compiled by the Missouri Child Fatality Review Program.

The Cape Girardeau County team was established in 1991, said chairman and Cape Girardeau County Prosecuting Attorney Morley Swingle.

The unit, one of 115 such multidisciplinary teams in Missouri, is not an investigative agency. Rather, it reviews child fatalities to see if there are any issues that should be brought to the attention in the public, Swingle said.

"Its kind of like a consumer advocacy group that watches out for things that could be dangerous and sees that the public is educated," said Cape Girardeau County Coroner John Clifton.

In February, the team met to review three local child death cases, Clifton said, adding that co-sleeping deaths are a recurring problem.

"It's one of the top problems," said Amy Smith, a review team member and public health nurse for the Cape Girardeau County Health Department.

Clifton said more than half of all infant deaths can possibly be linked to co-sleeping arrangements, though it's nearly impossible to say for sure. Causes of death are difficult to determine in infants without obvious injuries.

The safest way for an infant to sleep is alone, on their back, without any loose or fluffy bedding that could entangle them, according to the state child fatality program.

"A small child is pretty helpless if they get trapped," Clifton said.

Smith said another issue that has been brought up at review team meetings is concern over children riding four-wheelers.

"We don't recommend that children under 16 ride them. If they don't know how to drive a car yet, they shouldn't be riding a four-wheeler," Smith said.

bdicosmo@semissourian.com

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