By Jonathan Sperling
With city temperatures dropping to the single digits this winter, parents are no doubt fixated on ensuring their babies are cozy and warm when it’s time for sleep. And although the process of putting a baby to sleep might seem innocuous enough, there’s a safe (and a not so safe) way to do it, according to the Administration for Children’s Services.
On average, around 50 babies citywide die from a sleep-related injury each year — around one baby per week — due to how or where they were put to sleep, according to ACS. In many of these cases, babies under 1-year-old die when they sleep with parents in an adult-sized bed, or with a blanket or quilt, creating an heightened chance of suffocation.
“Parenting is really challenging, and it can be really stressful, especially for first-time parents who can be overwhelmed by the experience,” said Michele Maye, director of ACS’ Infant Safe Sleep Initiative, which has sought to combat sleep-related injury death since 2015. “Most people have loving but unsafe sleep practices. Parents that are using a blanket are really using a blanket out of a protective instinct to keep their babies warm. We want to make sure at ACS that parents have the tools to keep their babies safe.”
Parents might be familiar with Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), the natural and inexplicable death of an infant that is sometimes referred to as crib death. However, Maye and the Safe Sleep Initiative make a clear and fortunate distinction between SIDS and sleep-related injury death — the latter is very much preventable if parents are given the right tools and knowledge.
Maye also noted that although sleep-related injuries affect babies citywide, certain areas are hotspots, such as Jamaica and the Rockaways in Queens and Flatbush, East New York and Bushwick in Brooklyn, among other neighborhoods.
Through the Safe Sleep Initiative, ACS is distributing wearable sleep sacks — washable blanket alternatives designed to keep babies safe and warm on cold winter days and nights, without the increased risk of suffocation.
“Because infants really don’t have the muscle control, when you're using loose bedding like a blanket, quilt or comforter, infants can easily get entangled in them and they can easily cover an infant's nose and mouth,” Maye told the Eagle. “To eliminate that, we’re asking parents with infants under 1-year-old to use a sleep sack.”
The sleep sacks are available for free at many locations throughout the city, including at 165-15 Archer Ave., 1st Floor in Jamaica, 1274 Bedford Ave., 1st Floor in Bedford-Stuyvesant and 2554 Linden Blvd., 1st Floor in East New York.
In order to further reduce the chance of sleep-related injury death, the Safe Sleep Initiative also recommends that parents place babies on their backs to sleep in order to allow for better breathing, as well as placing babies on a firm and flat sleeping surface to reduce the chance of suffocation.
A leading cause of sleep-related injury death, according to Maye, is infants sharing a bed with a parent for purposes such as breastfeeding and bonding. For more information on safe sleeping, parents can visit the ACS online.
“A lot of parents will say to us, ‘I am a good parent. I don’t drink or do drugs, so my baby is safe.’ What I want people to hear most about this is that when people practice unsafe sleep, they’re doing what feels instinctively right to them,” Maye said. “These are all well-meaning and loving gestures, we just want parents to be aware of what the risks are, because we don’t want to see any baby dying in an environment that we could have prevented.”