Oregon and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome

A recent article in the Salem Statesman-Journal draws attention to infant deaths, an area where decades of government and private education efforts have both shown dramatic progress and encountered stubborn resistance.

The paper notes that “every year, about 40 babies in Oregon go to sleep and never wake up… deaths can be traced to negligence, substance abuse and unsafe sleep practices. But deaths from dangerous sleeping arrangements – one of the leading causes of infant mortality in Oregon – are preventable.”

The good news is that compared to the rest of the nation Oregon’s infant death rate is relatively low. A chart on the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) website (see link below) places both Oregon and Washington in the second-lowest tier for infant deaths nationwide, between 72.1 and 86.8 per 100,000 live births from 2013 to 2017. That puts both states below the national average of 100.5 per 100,000 (the lowest rates are in Vermont and Washington DC, both at 37.4; Alabama had the highest rate at 189.2)

Nationally, there were 3,600 sudden unexpected infant deaths in 2017 (the most recent year for which figures are available), according to the CDC. Of these, the largest portion, about 1,400 or 38% of the total, were due to SIDS. About one-quarter of the total could be attributed to “accidental suffocation or strangulation in bed.” The remaining 1,300 deaths (36%) were listed as “unknown cause.”

These numbers have fallen dramatically over time but ought to be easy to reduce still further. The links below to the websites of the CDC and SafeKids (an organization which regular readers will know I have long supported) contain simple yet essential information on the ways to prevent sudden infant deaths. First, and most importantly, SafeKids advises parents: “Lay your baby on his or her back for every sleep.” This applies at all times until the baby turns 1. The group also writes that parents should be “sure babies sleep on a firm, flat surface in their own crib, bassinet or play yard.” The group also counsels against placing loose blankets over infants as these “could cover baby’s airway or make their body temperature too high.” Instead, choose “a wearable blanket, onesie or similar clothing.”

Worryingly, the CDC’s data indicate that while SIDS deaths have declined steadily over the last 30 years accidental suffocations have slowly but steadily risen. The agency writes that “SIDS rates declined considerably from 130.3 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1990 to 35.4 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2017.” Meanwhile, accidental suffocation deaths, which barely registered in the CDC’s data in 1990, began climbing after 1997 and now make up around one-quarter of all infant deaths in the United States.

This explains why both SafeKids and the CDC are firmly opposed to “co-sleeping” – the movement to have children share their parents’ bed. As noted above, nearly one in four infant deaths can be attributed to children being accidentally smothered in bed. While some of those deaths involve the sort of loose blankets that SafeKids warns against, many will also have been the result of co-sleeping. SafeKids simple advice: “Share your room. Not your bed.”

Any child’s death is a tragedy, but far worse are tragedies that are easily avoidable. I urge every reader to take a few minutes to look at the SafeKids and CDC links below especially if you, or someone you love, have young children or are planning to start a family in the near future.


Salem Statesman-Journal: With 40 infant deaths a year, how does Oregon make sleep safer for babies?

SafeKids: Sleep Safety and Suffocation

Centers for Disease Control & Prevention: Sudden Unexpected Infant Death and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome


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