The number of infants who died after being placed in an unsafe sleep environment has skyrocketed since December, Milwaukee health officials say.
Milwaukee Health Commissioner Bevan Baker called the trend “alarming” and a “crisis” that the city must address by rethinking how to tell people not to sleep in the bed with their babies and to always place them on their backs whenever they put them to sleep.
Jentzen said the percentage of deaths in which co-sleeping is a factor has been steadily increasing and is now involved in about 80% of cases the team investigates. His office uses a doll to have families re-enact how the baby was found because it provides a concrete visualization of the scene, he said.
Despite efforts to decrease infant mortality in Milwaukee, babies born to African-American mothers continue to die at a greater rate than those born to white mothers. In January, the Fetal Infant Mortality Review Report found that the overall infant mortality rate for Milwaukee remained steady at 12 deaths per 1,000 live births from 2002-’04, but it found that the rate among blacks was significantly higher—19.4—in that period. About 81% of the citywide infant deaths were in 12 central-city ZIP codes.
The majority of the babies looked at during last month’s team review were African-American and lived in three central city ZIP codes: 53206, 53212 and 53215.
According to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the national SIDS rate has fallen almost 50% since the launch of the “Back to Sleep” campaign in 1994, which urges parents to put their infants to sleep on their backs, rather than on their stomachs. Parents have also been told to remove all soft bedding from the crib and to make sure the baby sleeps alone.
“There are many reasons why (co-sleeping) happens,” said Anne Harvieux, program administrator for the Infant Death Center of Wisconsin, based at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin in Wauwatosa.
For example, some people may not agree that the baby should be put to sleep alone, while others might not have the money to buy a crib, she said.