Infant suffocation deaths on rise, Jefferson Parish coroner warns

JEFFERSON PARISH, LA (WVUE) - The coroner of Jefferson Parish issued a warning to parents Tuesday after a rash of infant suffocation deaths.

Moms like Emily Brown cuddle their infants in bed to comfort them and help them fall back asleep.

"It's easy when they're nursing to put them in bed with you, but try not to put them in for an extended amount of time," she said.

Too much time can lead to tragedy. The Centers for Disease Control says about 1,000 times each year in this country, a parent falls asleep, rolls over and suffocates the child. The CDC says it is the leading cause of death by injury to American children under the age of 1, and Jefferson Parish is no exception.

"So far in 2014 in Jefferson Parish, we've had six deaths from infants in unsafe sleeping environment," said Coroner Dr. Gerry Cvitanovich. "Four of the six were sleeping with their parents resulting in accidental suffocation."

The CDC says infant suffocation deaths are up fourfold. One reason for the increase is that many of the death were previously misclassified as sudden infant death syndrome.

"It's devastating to the family and the people in the emergency room, and in my case having to deliver the news to that family is heartbreaking," said Cvitanovich.

Parents who are under the influence need to be especially careful.

"The likelihood goes up with more than one adult in bed, or if the adult was involved in alcohol or drugs," said Cvitanovich.

Of the half-dozen accidental suffocation deaths handled by the Jefferson Parish coroner this year, he says two actually occurred outside the parents' bed.

"A lot of times, it's adult, or unsafe bedding, loose toys, loose bedding or things like that can make it dangerous for an infant," said Cvitanovich.

Parents we spoke with said they take precautions.

"Just get up in the middle of the night and fix a milk bottle, and keep him in the bed," said parent Tronesha Jefferson as she strolled with her son in Lafrienere Park.

And the Jefferson Parish coroner hopes everyone gets the message.

"Don't sleep in the bed with your baby. Put your baby next to your bed - not in your bed," said Cvitanovich.

He says the American Pediatric Association recommends that parents share a room with their infants, but he stresses those infants need to be kept in a separate bed, or bassinet, and not allowed to sleep with parents.

Copyright 2014 WVUE. All rights reserved.