Reducing Sudden Infant Deaths

Reducing Sudden Infant Deaths

Nov 04, 2015

Reducing Sudden Infant Deaths in Spokane County

For more information contact Kim Papich, SRHD Public Information Officer (509) 324-1539

SPOKANE, Wash. – Nov. 4, 2015 – On this day, in communities across America, parents will listen joyfully to their newborn’s first cry and families will celebrate their healthy baby’s first birthday. But sadly, also on this day, 13 babies will die suddenly and unexpectedly. By increasing awareness about the preventable causes of sudden infant death, Spokane Regional Health District (SRHD) wants to rally the Spokane community against this tragic statistic.

Says SRHD Nurse Family Partnership (NFP) Manager Sue Schultz, “When a baby dies, the hurt and pain run deep, affecting everyone whose life was touched by that child. But with prevention, there is hope that we can stem these losses in our community.”
When an infant dies suddenly and unexpectedly, these deaths are called sudden unexpected infant deaths (SUID). Often, an autopsy alone cannot explain these deaths without investigating the scene and reviewing the infant's medical history.

Between 2010 and 2014, 27 Spokane County infants died suddenly and unexpectedly—about 3,500 infants die each year in the United States.
The most common causes of SUID are:

  • Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is the sudden death of an infant less than 1 year old that cannot be explained due to a lack of findings after a thorough investigation that includes a complete autopsy, examination of the death scene, and a review of the medical history. SIDS is the leading cause of death for infants aged 1 month to 12 months old. About half of SUIDs are SIDS. 
  • Accidental Suffocation and Strangulation in Bed (ASSB) includes these things that can lead to accidental suffocation or strangulation:
    • Suffocation by soft bedding—for example, when a pillow or waterbed mattress covers an infant's nose and mouth.
    • Overlay—for example, when another person rolls on top of or against the infant.
    • Wedging or entrapment—for example, when an infant is wedged between two objects such as a mattress and wall, bed frame, or furniture.
    • Strangulation—for example, when an infant's head and neck get caught between crib railings.

Specific to deaths where an SRHD public health nurse interviewed affected families, 54 percent of the infants were sleeping with an adult or child. Statewide, between 2007 and 2011 there were 244 infant deaths due to SIDs, suffocation or unknown cause—over 50 percent occurred while the infant was sleeping with other people. In 20 percent of the deaths the infant did not have a designated sleep space in the home.
Research shows that parents and caregivers can take the following actions to help reduce the risk of SUID:

  • Have the baby share your room, not your bed. Your baby should not sleep in an adult bed, on a couch, or on a chair alone, with you, or with anyone else.
  • Always place babies on their backs to sleep for every sleep.
  • Use a firm sleep surface, such as a mattress in a safety-approved crib, covered by a fitted sheet.
  • Keep soft objects such as pillows and loose bedding out of your baby's sleep area.
  • Do not smoke during pregnancy or around the baby because these are important risk factors for SIDS. The risk of SIDS is even stronger when a baby shares a bed with a smoker. To reduce risk, do not smoke during pregnancy, and do not smoke or allow smoking around your baby. For help in quitting, check out these resources, call the quitline at 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669) or visit

In 2013 in Spokane County, 15 percent of births were to women who smoked during pregnancy. Maternal smoking significantly decreased from 2009 to 2013. But the maternal smoking rate in Spokane County was still significantly higher than that of Washington state and the U.S.
The health district’s Community and Family Services (CFS) and Health Promotion (HP) divisions have several programs dedicated to ensuring local infants get the best starts in life. CFS boasts the aforementioned NFP program, where public health nurses with specialized training visit first-time, low-income mothers in their homes, providing services to the pregnant women and their infant until the child is two years old. This includes incorporating safe infant sleep education and behavior modification as part of their home visits.
Spokane families who receive benefits and breastfeeding support from HP’s Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition program also receive messages on safe sleep and are encouraged, per the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendation, to not co-sleep with their infant to nurse, or otherwise. WIC staff also emphasize that breastfeeding can reduce the risk of SIDS by approximately 50 percent.1
In addition to sharing data and prevention messages with the community, SRHD is facilitating partnerships with other health agencies, hospitals, nonprofits, families, media and other stakeholders to develop a social marketing campaign and policies that:

  • promote safe infant sleep
  • reduce infant mortality
  • encourage smoking cessation
  • promote breastfeeding, immunizations and prenatal care

Look for materials throughout Spokane County beginning in 2016. For more information about SUID visit Spokane Regional Health District’s web site also offers comprehensive, updated information about Spokane Regional Health District and its triumphs in making Spokane a safer and healthier community. Become a fan of SRHD on Facebook to receive local safety and wellness tips. You can also follow us on Twitter @spokanehealth.
1 Pediatrics. 2009 Mar;123(3):e406-10. doi: 10.1542/peds.2008-2145. Does breastfeeding reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome?
Vennemann MM1, Bajanowski T, Brinkmann B, Jorch G, Yücesan K, Sauerland C, Mitchell EA; GeSID Study Group.