Lying on his back in the center of a clean, bare crib, 3-week-old Josue Luis sleeps. No teddy bears, frilly blankets or other possible asphyxiation hazards share crib space with this newborn; he sleeps alone.
That’s as it should be for sleeping babies, said Monica Lamas, outreach worker for the Healthy Start Coalition of Manatee.
“A long time ago, my mother and grandmother would put babies face-down to sleep,” said Lamas. “They didn’t know the dangers of this.”
Thelma Juarez shoos Josue’s older sister, Damaris, away from the sleeping infant. Instructing siblings not to climb into a baby’s crib is one of the life-saving lessons Lamas shares with her clients.
“We give them all the information they need to help keep their baby safe: Don’t sleep with your baby, don’t smoke, no loose blankets or toys in the crib, and don’t overdress them so they become overheated,” Lamas said.
“They are very thankful to learn.”
In 2007, there were two accidental infant deaths in Manatee County, including one attributed to suffocation when a baby fell between the mattress and an adult — “an entirely preventable tragedy,” said Maj. Connie Shingledecker of the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office.
There was one accidental infant death in 2008 related to sleeping with adults and three undetermined infant deaths so far in 2009 that are believed to be related to co-sleeping.
Sleeping with a baby is an accident waiting to happen, and it’s worse when a parent is impaired or exhausted.
“These are the most difficult tragedies because they are preventable,” said Shingledecker.
SIDS — sudden infant death syndrome — is an oft-used but misleading term for unexplained infant deaths, contends Shingledecker.
Though 28 infant deaths in Manatee County are attributed to SIDS and unsafe sleeping practices during 2000-2008, Shingledecker believes most of these deaths were caused by the latter.
“It’s a misconception; SIDS is a diagnosis of exclusion used when the medical examiner cannot determine anything else that could have taken the life of an infant,” she said.
“A majority of these deaths are caused by positional asphyxiation from co-sleeping.”
Friday, community leaders and experts will gather at a dinner hosted by the Healthy Start Coalition of Manatee County to raise awareness for the “Safe Sleep for Sweet Dreams” campaign.
Speakers will include pediatrician Xavier Sevilla, Judge Charles Williams, attorney C.J. Czaia, and Shingledecker.
Mothers who have participated in the program will share their experiences.
“Hopefully, we will save lives,” said Shingledecker.
Tiffany Tompkins-Condie, Herald photojournalist, can be reached at 745-7080, ext. 2507.