Ambulance crews, police officers, and the county coroner are all at a house in the early morning – an infant has been found dead from unintentional suffocation. The infant’s parents are understandably emotional, crying and hardly able to speak. Apparently the parents had put the infant in bed with them to sleep. An empty crib sits across the room from the bed where the infant died.

Although an accident, the infant’s death was preventable. It is a sad reality: Infants die when adults sleep next to them. In Missouri in 2012, 57 children under the age of one year died of accidental suffocation. Most of those 57 deaths occurred while adults were co-sleeping with the child.

What do I mean by “co-sleeping”? When an adult shares a sleeping surface with an infant, there is a significant risk of unintentional suffocation. Typically this cause of death is the result of overlay – a type of unintentional suffocation that occurs when an infant is sharing the same sleep surface with one or more persons, and the infant is rolled-over on or entrapped under the person’s arm or leg.

In my role as Prosecuting Attorney for Taney County, I serve as a member of the county’s Child Fatality Review Board – a group that meets to review and study child deaths that occur in Taney County. The Child Fatality Review Board must meet every time a child death occurs in Taney County. Over the past eight (8) years, our board has met numerous times to review unintentional suffocation deaths of infants.

These are incidents in which parents have not intended to harm their babies, and are broken-hearted. If asked, I believe that each parent would say that they wish the hands of time could be turned-back, so they could put that precious child back into his or her crib. However, nothing can bring back these infants. Although such a loss is tragic, it is also preventable in many instances.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that room-sharing without bed sharing reduces the risk of unintentional suffocation deaths of infants. This means, having the infant sleep in the parents’ room, but on a separate sleep surface (like the baby’s crib) close to the parents’ bed. Such an arrangement is safer than co-sleeping and also more likely to prevent suffocation, strangulation and entrapment, all of which may occur when the infant is sleeping in an adult bed. Parents need to also be aware of the need to clear the infant’s crib of all soft bedding items, including stuffed animals, to further reduce the risk of unintentional suffocation.

Please share this information with new parents, so that they may avoid the heartbreak that comes from the accidental death of a child.

Sources: “Missouri Child Fatality Review Program 2012” and American Academy of Pediatrics (