Safe babies sleep alone on a firm mattress

'The weight of our argument is in the number of dead kids,' coroner warns

Jun 05, 2007 04:30 AM

Staff Reporter

Infant deaths due to unsafe sleeping conditions are on the rise in Ontario, leading the province's deputy chief coroner to warn parents not to sleep with babies or put them in overcrowded cribs.

Although his recommendation carries no legal clout, "The weight of our argument is in the number of dead kids," Dr. Jim Cairns said last night.

A report released yesterday by Ontario's Office of the Chief Coroner said 21 children died from unsafe sleeping environments in the province in 2005, up from 16 a year earlier. It stressed the only safe sleeping environment for a baby is in a crib with a firm mattress.

Cairns said last night that evidence accumulated since the report was finished has confirmed the dangers associated with babies sleeping with parents or siblings or in cribs stuffed with toys or adult-sized quilts and pillows.

Of 30 infant deaths in 2006 and the first months of 2007, Cairns said that 20 were caused by "co-sleeping" with adults or other unsafe sleeping environments.

Just last Friday, a review of 10 autopsy reports from the Hospital for Sick Children showed that eight were the result of unsafe sleeping accommodations.

Warnings have been issued in Canada, the U.S. and Britain about the risks of sleeping accommodations for babies, including from the Canadian Paediatric Society and the American Medical Association.

Cairns said he understands the argument from mothers that they want to breastfeed their infants in bed.

"I am not against breastfeeding; just don't do it in bed," he said. "Bond with the baby in the crib beside you. At least you are bonding with a baby who is alive."

Cairns warned parents not to put pillows, crib bumper pads, blankets, afghans, quilts or any kind of adult bedcover over or around their babies.

The report noted that babies are not strong enough to move their heads or their bodies if an adult rolls over on top of them. The average age of babies who died because of unsafe sleeping accommodations was three months, according to the report.