New data show unsafe sleep environments account for nearly all unexpected infant deaths in Minnesota. The Minnesota Department of Health is marking Infant Safe Sleep Week (October 6-12) by encouraging parents to know the ABCs of safe sleep and encouraging hospitals to become safe-sleep certified.

State health department analysis of the 90 sudden unexpected infant deaths (SUIDs) in 2016 and 2017 found that 82% or 74 were sleep-related and happened in unsafe sleep environments.

A key takeaway for parents and other caregivers is to know the ABCs of safe sleep:

  • ALONE: Infants should always sleep or nap alone.
  • BACK: Always put a baby on their back to sleep or nap.
  • CRIB: Babies should always sleep or nap in their own safety-approved crib or play yard without blankets or pillows.

Recognizing the importance of building awareness around this public health issue, Governor Tim Walz proclaimed October 6-12 Infant Safe Sleep Week. To promote safe sleep, the I-35W St. Anthony Falls Bridge in Minneapolis will be illuminated in blue, light blue and pink on October 11 and 12.

The Minnesota Department of Health is also encouraging hospitals and providers to raise awareness and train staff to make sure parents know the ABCs of safe sleep.

“We all need to work together – providers, parents and communities – to prevent these deaths,” said Minnesota Department of Health Assistant Commissioner Dr. Courtney Jordan Baechler. “We need to give all families the education and the financial and housing supports they need to create safe sleeping environments, such as a dedicated crib for infants.”

Year Total unexpected infant deaths Sleep-related
2016 58 45
2017 32 29
2018 51 TBD

One hospital leading the way is Hennepin Healthcare (formerly Hennepin County Medical Center). The facility is the first hospital in Minnesota to receive a gold level National Safe Sleep Hospital Certification by maintaining a safe sleep policy, annually training staff, auditing progress, using sleep sacks instead of blankets and providing education to parents prior to discharge.

“We want to help parents establish safe sleep practices right from the beginning, so we teach parents about safe sleep before their baby is born and again after delivery, and then we continue to model safe sleep practices at every opportunity,” said Jennette Flynn, clinical care supervisor for the inpatient pediatrics and pediatric intensive care units at Hennepin Healthcare. “When parents get a consistent message from their health care team, they are more likely to adopt the behavior.”

About 96% of Minnesota’s new moms said a provider told them to place their baby on their back to sleep, and 87% of moms said a provider told them to place their baby in a crib, bassinet or playard, according to data from the 2016-2017 Minnesota Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System.

Health department analysis showed several notable risk factors involved in the 74 sleep-related deaths in 2016-2017.

Among the findings:

  • 85% were not in a crib, bassinette, or side sleeper.
  • 81% had unsafe bedding or toys. Unsafe objects in sleep environment included pillow, comforter, thin blanket/flat sheet, cushion, U-shaped pillow (Boppy), sleep positioner, bumper pads or toy(s).
  • 61% of the babies were sharing a sleep surface, such as a bed, sofa or recliner, with another person.
  • 59% were in an unsafe sleep position, such as being placed on their side or belly rather than on their back.

The health department review of infant deaths found that soft items such as blankets, pillows, crib bumpers and toys in the crib pose a hazard, as does exposure to cigarette smoke. It is also important for the infant to sleep separately from other sleeping children and adults since research has found that keeping infants in bed with others is hazardous. One positive alternative is co-rooming, where the baby sleeps in their own safe crib, bassinette or play yard but is still nearby for breastfeeding and nighttime diaper changes. A safe sleeping environment is just as important during naptime as it is during nighttime sleeping.

Instead of using blankets to keep infants warm, parents are urged to dress babies in pajamas or other clothing appropriate for the temperature. As always, parents should talk with a doctor or nurse if they have questions or concerns.

For more information, see Sudden Unexpected Infant Deaths (Includes SIDS and Sleep-Related Infant Deaths) and Safe Sleep.