8 infant deaths in 4 months; county urges parents to use safe sleep habits

Recalled loungers part of issue; Ohio’s in bottom 10 states for infant mortality, and Montgomery County numbers are getting worse in 2023

Eight infants under 1 year old have died this year due to unsafe sleep habits in Montgomery County, prompting county officials to make a public push about how best to keep babies safe when they are most vulnerable.

“Every week in Ohio, three babies die in unsafe sleep,” said county Commissioner Debbie Lieberman. “Unfortunately, in Montgomery County, we had eight babies die in unsafe sleep environments.”

One death occurred in January, two in the months of February and March each, and three in the month of April, according to Montgomery County Children Services.

Two of the recent infant deaths in Montgomery County involved Boppy newborn loungers, which were recalled almost two years ago due to suffocation risks. Infants can suffocate on those recalled loungers if their positioning obstructs their breathing.

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“It’s not enough to say that our hearts go out to these families. It’s so tragic,” Lieberman said.

When the Boppy recall was announced in September 2021, there were eight reports of infant deaths in the U.S. associated with the Boppy Company newborn lounger.

“The recent deaths show the loungers are still out there,” Lieberman said. She also emphasized the A-B-Cs of safe sleep for infants.

“Babies should sleep alone (A), on their backs (B), and in a crib (C),” Lieberman said. Cribs can also include a bassinet or a baby play yard.

Additionally, the place where the infant is sleeping should not be obstructed by pillows, crib bumpers, stuffed animals, blankets, or pets.

Each year, there are about 3,400 sudden unexpected infant deaths in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control. Of those deaths, 27% have causes related to accidental suffocation and strangulation in bed. In 2020, there were approximately 905 infant deaths in the U.S. due to accidental suffocation and strangulation in bed.

Other leading causes of death for infants and young children in the U.S. include unintentional injuries, congenital anomalies, and low birth weight, according to the CDC.

“I’m not here to discuss the specifics of any one case, as we all recognize the intense tragedy and lasting devastation the loss of a loved one can cause, how it is particularly amplified when the loss is an infant or a child,” said Montgomery County Coroner Dr. Kent Harshbarger.

Infants are at risk for suffocation or strangulation if their sleeping spaces are obstructed because they have not developed enough muscle strength to pull air in or push air out when the chest or abdomen become compressed and/or the nose or mouth are obstructed, Harshbarger said.

“Bed sharing is never an option,” Harshbarger said.

This year, the county is already outpacing the number of infant deaths in previous years. Last year, 27 children under the age of three died, not all related to unsafe sleep, Harshbarger said. This year, the county is already at 15 deaths.

In regard to infant deaths involving unsafe sleep, of the eight deaths in Montgomery County, the youngest child was 16 days old and the oldest was 3.5 months. In all of 2022, there were 11 deaths related to unsafe sleep, according to Montgomery County Children Services. In 2021, there were 13, along with six, 11, and five deaths in 2020, 2019, and 2018, respectively.

Ohio ranks 41st among states in infant mortality and 32nd in infant maltreatment, according to Groundwork Ohio, a public policy organization. Half of Ohio infants and toddlers also live in poverty.

Black infants are 2.7 times more likely to die before their first birthday than white infants, according to 2020 statistics from the Ohio Department of Health. In 2020, 864 babies died before their first birthday in Ohio. In 2020, the infant mortality rate fell to 6.7 from 6.9 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2019 for all races. The rate among Black infants fell to 13.6 in 2020 from 14.3 in 2019.

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The county’s press conference Wednesday on safe sleep came a week after Ohio State Representatives Andrea White (R-Kettering) and Latyna Humphrey (D-Columbus) pressed other state legislators to act on initiatives for infant and maternal health as part of the Strong Foundations Act.

Also known as House Bill 7, the proposed legislation contains new operating appropriations of about $39 million for fiscal year 2024 and about $24 million for fiscal year 2025, according to the fiscal notes of the bill. The bill is pending in the Ohio House Families and Aging Committee.

Cribs available for kids

Public Health – Dayton & Montgomery County, in collaboration with Ohio Department of Health and Cribs for Kids, is providing infant survival kits to parents and caregivers in our community. The infant survival kit includes a “cribette,” fitted sheet, sleep sack, and educational safe sleep material.

For more information or to receive a kit, call Public Health at 937-496-6831.

Families must meet the following requirements to participate in the Safe Sleep Program and receive one pack ‘n play or cribette per child:

  • Have no other safe sleep space such as crib, pack ‘n play or bassinet or ability to obtain one;
  • Be a resident of Greene or Montgomery County;
  • At least 32 weeks pregnant or have a child under 1 year of age;
  • Receive safe sleep education and complete required paperwork.

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