Guest Column: Suffocation is leading preventable cause of infant death in the county

As we enter the coldest time of the year in Los Angeles, staying warm becomes a top priority, especially for families with young children. Babies may be brought to sleep with their parents in a bed, dressed in extra layers of clothing at nighttime or wrapped in thick blankets. But what many well-meaning parents don't know is that these loving actions can drastically increase the risk of accidental suffocation.

Every five days in L.A. County, an infant under the age of 1 suffocates while sleeping, according to recent data from the Inter-Agency Council on Child Abuse and Neglect (ICAN). And when it's cold outside, parents are more likely to bring their baby into bed with them. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents share a room, not a bed, with their baby. Babies can suffocate under blankets and pillows, or when turning into a parent's arm or chest while they're sleeping.

Extra layers of clothing and heavy, bulky blankets, such as a San Marcos blanket, also can be deadly. In fact, the only item babies need on chilly nights is a cozy fleece sleeper that zips or buttons up.

To keep your baby warm and sleeping safely during the winter months, follow these simple guidelines:

Dress babies in a fleece or cotton sleeper. Don't use hooded sleepers because when babies turn their heads into the hood, they can suffocate.

Clear out the crib. Don't put pillows, bumper pads, stuffed toys and blankets in the crib. Also avoid wrapping your baby in multiple blankets or thick, plush blankets like a San Marcos blanket.

Keep the crib mattress firm. In the wintertime, parents sometimes add layers of blankets on top of the crib mattress to keep their babies warm and to provide extra cushioning, but this can suffocate a baby. A fitted flannel sheet is all that is needed.

Check the room temperature. Make sure the temperature in the room where the baby is sleeping isn't too hot. If the room temperature is comfortable for an adult, no extra heat is needed.

Share a room, not a bed. Sharing a room is much safer for a baby than sharing a bed. After breast feeding, nursing mothers should put their baby to sleep in a crib, bassinet or Pack 'n Play that is next to the bed or where they're sleeping.

According to landlord/tenant laws in California, landlords must keep their properties in livable condition and provide heat in the winter months. Families who are renting a home or apartment that doesn't have a functioning heating system should contact their landlord or property manager.

Creating a safe sleeping environment for babies every time they are put down to sleep is one of the most important things parents and caregivers can do to keep infants safe. The only way to fully eliminate the risk of suffocation is to dress babies in a sleeper and put them on their back in a crib or bassinet that's free of clutter.

Parents who have lost their babies due to unsafe sleeping often tell the coroner's office that they were unaware of the risks of suffocation. It's time to change that.


DEANNE TILTON DURFEE, a resident of La Cañada Flintridge, is executive director of the Inter-Agency Council on Child Abuse and Neglect (ICAN). ICAN and ICAN Associates have partnered with First 5 LA to raise awareness about the Safe Sleep for Baby campaign and save families from the preventable tragedy of losing an infant due to unsafe sleeping practices. Learn more at

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