LOS ANGELES, CA--(Marketwired - May 8, 2013) - Los Angeles County officials today released new data showing that every five days in L.A. County, a baby suffocates while sleeping, and unveiled the first-ever countywide Safe Sleep for Baby public education campaign aimed at reducing the number of these preventable deaths.

As a partnership between the Inter-Agency Council on Child Abuse and Neglect (ICAN), ICAN Associates and First 5 LA, the campaign aims to raise awareness of the dangers of bed-sharing and unsafe sleeping practices for infants under 1 year of age. It will also educate parents and caregivers on the proper way to put a baby to sleep to avoid suffocation risks.

"It has become clear that the tragic deaths from unsafe sleeping practices are completely preventable," said Deanne Tilton Durfee, executive director for ICAN. "Too often we hear from grieving parents, 'No one ever told me how I could have avoided the death of my baby from unsafe sleep.' Parents and caregivers must be made aware of these risks so that no one wakes up to this tragedy again."

The newly released data show that suffocation while bed-sharing and in unsafe sleep environments, like a cluttered crib, continues to be the leading preventable cause of infant death in L.A. County. From 2008-2011, more babies died from suffocation due to unsafe sleep than all accidental deaths for children under age 14 combined (includes drowning, automobile accidents and poisoning). The causes of suffocation included babies sharing a bed with parents or sleeping on a couch; cribs cluttered with blankets, pillows, bumper pads and stuffed toys; and babies sleeping on their side or stomach.

"For the first three-to-four months of life, babies can only breathe through their noses and do not have the strength to lift their heads. When sleeping face down, or when their face is pressed against a soft object, they can suffocate easily," said Dr. Jonathan E. Fielding, public health director and health officer of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. "The preventable nature of these deaths highlights the need for public education on this issue."

In addition, the new bed-sharing and unsafe sleep child death data for 2011 reveal:

  • Bed-sharing and unsafe sleep accounted for 62 percent of all undetermined child deaths in L.A. County (38 percent due to bed-sharing and 24 percent due to unsafe sleep environments, such as couches, pillows, soft or excessive bedding, and stuffed animals).
  • Latino babies represented the highest number of bed-sharing and unsafe sleep child deaths at 39 percent.
  • African-Americans continued to be disproportionately affected, at 26 percent of bed-sharing and unsafe sleep child deaths and only 9 percent of the county population.
  • Three Service Planning Areas (SPAs) accounted for the majority of these deaths:
    • SPA 8 (South Bay/Harbor): 28 percent
    • SPA 6 (South L.A.): 24 percent
    • SPA 2 (San Fernando Valley): 16 percent
  • Infants between 0-6 months of age represented the vast majority of bed-sharing (81 percent) and unsafe sleep (73 percent) child deaths.
  • The top three sleep surfaces involving bed-sharing and unsafe sleep child deaths were: adult beds (64 percent), couches (13 percent) and cribs (8 percent).

"First 5 LA is funding the Safe Sleep for Baby campaign because too many families are suffering from the loss of their babies due to unsafe sleep," said Kim Belshé, executive director for First 5 LA. "This campaign will give moms and dads, grandparents and caregivers the knowledge they need to make sure their babies are sleeping safely."

Along with warning of the risks of suffocation due to bed-sharing and unsafe sleep environments, the Safe Sleep for Baby campaign will educate parents and caregivers on how to put a baby to sleep safely: on their back in their own crib or bassinet that is free of clutter (such as pillows, bumper pads, blankets and stuffed toys). The campaign will raise awareness through countywide advertisements -- including TV, radio and outdoor ads -- as well as through safe sleep training for L.A. County employees, community-based organizations and others who interact with families of infants. 

For more information on the Safe Sleep for Baby campaign, infant safe sleep practices and the risks of suffocation due to bed-sharing and unsafe sleep, visit www.SafeSleepForBaby.com.

About the Inter-Agency Council on Child Abuse and Neglect
The Los Angeles County Inter-Agency Council on Child Abuse and Neglect (ICAN) is the official county agent coordinating the development of services for the prevention, identification and treatment of child abuse and neglect. ICAN is nationally known for its multi-agency comprehensive review of child fatalities. Through this review, it has been determined that infant unsafe sleeping is the single leading cause of preventable child death. ICAN Associates is a private, nonprofit organization that works in partnership with ICAN, providing support for direct and indirect services to prevent harm to children. ICAN and ICAN Associates have partnered with First 5 LA to raise awareness about safe sleep for babies to save families from the preventable tragedy of losing an infant due to unsafe sleeping practices. For more information, please visit www.ican4kids.org.

About First 5 LA
First 5 LA oversees the L.A. County allocation of funds from Proposition 10, which added a 50-cent tax on tobacco products sold in California. Funds raised help pay for health care, education and child development programs for children from the prenatal stage to age 5 and their families. First 5 LA's mission is to increase the number of young children who are physically and emotionally healthy, safe and ready to learn. For more information, please visit www.first5la.org.