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Michigan’s first lady speaks up to prevent infant sleep deaths

April 3, 2013

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First lady of Michigan Sue Snyder, the wife of Gov. Rick Snyder, speaks with Maura Corrigan, director of the Michigan Department of Human Services, after a March 25 safe sleep initiative press conference March 25 at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak.

ROYAL OAK — Infant sleep deaths are preventable.

That was the message state officials had March 25 as they gathered at Beaumont Hospital’s Saber Salisbury Garden. In the past three years, there have been 424 infant deaths in Michigan due to unsafe sleep environments. Each year has seen an increase from the prior year, making sleep-related conditions the third-leading cause of infant deaths in the state at 17 percent.

“Infant (sleep) deaths are actually 100 percent preventable if we educate parents on how to put their children to sleep,” said Nick Lyon, deputy director of the Michigan Department of Community Health.

The recommended guidelines for putting an infant to sleep include placing the infant on his or her back, alone in an empty crib, preferably with a pacifier and just a lone layer of clothing to avoid overheating.

“We want babies to be clothed in proper attire, but we don’t want them to be overheated,” said Dr. Fozia Saleem-Rasheed, neonatologist at Beaumont Children’s Hospital. “Our safe sleep practices have been developed at Beaumont over the last 12 years. We try to model safe sleep practices so parents see and hear it. Where you put your baby to sleep can be the difference between life and death.”

The Michigan Department of Human Services also debuted a public service announcement March 25 that featured three local families that lost their infants due to sleep conditions. The nearly nine-minute version is viewable at Video.

“No family in Michigan should ever have to mourn the death of a child because they didn’t realize they shouldn’t sleep with their infant and that a crib is the only safe place for an infant to sleep,” said Maura Corrigan, MDHS director.

The video features first lady of Michigan Sue Snyder, who was on hand last week to speak about the importance of the safe sleep initiative.

“I clearly remember being a new mom,” Snyder said. “There’s nothing you wouldn’t do for your baby. Educating parents about safe sleep is vital. The death of a baby is devastating.”

Officials said many infant sleeping deaths result from the child being smothered while sleeping with an adult or other small child. A 2011 study found that a baby sleeping with a blanket occurred in 84 percent of infant death cases, while sleeping with an adult contributed to 55 percent of the cases.

“While we may want to hold the baby close at night, the only safe place is in a crib on their back without toys or pillows,” Snyder said.

Additionally, breastfeeding is recommended for a healthy baby, while smoking around a baby increases the risk of the child’s death, officials said. And the aforementioned study showed that an infant sleeping in an adult bed, waterbed or on a chair, couch or floor contributed to 65 percent of the deaths.

“We know that the infant mortality rate is higher in homes where parents smoke,” Saleem-Rasheed said.

Although infant deaths occur in all types of families, black, American Indian and low-income families have been identified as being at an increased risk, having experienced higher rates than other demographics.

There were 144 infant deaths in Michigan in 2012, compared to 141 in 2011 and 139 in 2010.

In 2010, Michigan ranked 37th nationally for infant mortality with 7.1 of every 1,000 live births dying. The national average was 6.1, but Michigan’s average would drop to 5.9 per 1,000 live births if sleep-related infant deaths were prevented.

The 139 sleep-environment-related infant deaths in 2010 is more than double the number — 67 — who died from motor vehicle crashes, drowning, house fires, electrocution, falls, accidental poisoning, infectious disease, cancer and diseases of the circulatory system, respiratory system, nervous system and digestive system combined.

“In the last two years, Michigan has earned the title of the comeback state,” Corrigan said, with a nod to the auto industry. She hoped a similar positive change could occur in regard to eliminating infant deaths.

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