Unsafe sleeping conditions have caused a good percentage of the state’s infant deaths over the past few years, according to speakers at the Bradley County Infant Mortality Summit.
The event, held at Lee University Thursday, featured the views of five doctors on what they believed had caused many of the infant deaths in Tennessee and how such deaths could be prevented.
Matt Ryerson, president of the United Way of Bradley County and served as emcee for the event, said the discussions were valuable because it concerned prevention of babies’ deaths.
Speakers at the event included Dr. Jan Beville, medical director of community health services at the Tennessee Department of Health; Dr. Allyson Cornell, medical director of the Southeast Region Department of Health; Dr. Michael Warren, medical director of maternal child health at the Tennessee Department of Health; Dr. David Adair, an obstetrician at SkyRidge Medical Center; and Dr. Karen Cline-Parhamovich, medical examiner for the state of Tennessee.
The state’s most recent numbers show that 7.4 out of every 1,000 live births in Tennessee in 2011 resulted in a baby’s death. Compared to 7.9 in 2010 and 8.0 in both 2009 and 2008, the state’s number for infant mortality is on the decline. However, it remains above the national average of 6 deaths for every 1,000 live births.
Warren said a major factor in infant deaths has been sleep-related deaths — not just the often more well-known concern of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS.
“Nationally, there’s been a decline,” Warren said. “But as the sudden infant deaths are going down, these are going up. This really has a huge impact on our infant mortality rate.”
He explained that, in an effort to curb the number of sleep-related deaths, the Tennessee Department of Health has begun recommending parents and caregivers learn “the ABC’s of Safe Sleep.”
A stands for “alone,” B stands for “back” and C stands for “crib.” According to the ABC’s, the safest sleeping situation for a baby is alone in a crib on his or her back.
Parents and caregivers should also make sure there are no extra linens or stuffed animals in the crib.
Warren said many parents might want to cover a baby with a soft, fluffy blanket when they sleep. However, that can be dangerous for the baby because it can cover its nose and/or mouth when it moves in its sleep.
He said many sleep-related deaths happen when a baby is pressed up against something and cannot breathe.
For that reason, parents should not let babies sleep in bed with them. If a parent wants to sleep in the same room as their baby, they should have a crib or bassinet near their bed, he added.
Warren said it is also important for a caregiver to place a baby to sleep on its back so gravity can do its work if he or she spits up during the night. A baby who spits up can more easily choke if it is lying on its side or stomach.
Another concern addressed at the summit was the trend of healthy mothers choosing to deliver their babies with a cesarean section, or c-section, surgery simply because they want to have the baby at a certain time.
Adair said that is bad for the baby. He cited a study that said the lowest-risk pregnancies were the ones that occurred at 40 weeks.
“We are delivering babies earlier than we should be,” Adair said. “We can do better by our patients.”
Adair said he is not opposed to doing early cesarean sections if medical emergencies call for them; but he discourages mothers from delivering their babies prematurely simply because they want the baby to be born on a certain date.
He encouraged his audience of medical professionals to do their part to discourage performing elective, non-required c-sections on women who need to carry their babies to full term.
Other speakers’ topics included Cline-Parhamovich talking about how infant deaths are categorized; Cornell discussing the importance of safe sleep for infants in Bradley County; and Beville sharing the history of the 10th Judicial District Drug Task force.
For more information on how to make sure a baby is sleeping in safe conditions, visit the Tennessee Department of Health’s website dedicated to the topic, safesleep.tn.gov.