Co-sleeping death rates for babies almost doubles in Greenville County
Thursday, October 20, 2011

GREENVILLE, S.C. – Greenville County authorities are sounding the alarm after the rate of co-sleeping and unsafe-sleeping deaths for babies almost doubled in the county since last year.

From January through September, seven children under age one have died – up from four deaths in all of 2010. Three children had died in each of the preceding two years. The deaths were the result of unsafe sleeping conditions, such as co-sleeping or sleeping in adult beds, and are different from deaths ruled as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

“Parents just don’t realize the danger they’re inadvertently putting their children in,” said Greenville County Coroner Parks Evans. In some cases, the babies were deliberately put to bed in their parents’ beds or on soft pillows; in other cases, sleep-deprived parent fell asleep with their newborns on couches and trapped the babies between them and the couch cushions, suffocating them. Soft bedding can likewise suffocate a baby, blocking the baby's airway during sleep.  

Death or brain damage can occur in as little as minutes for a baby under 12 weeks of age when deprived of oxygen, said Jerry Ferlauto, a former neonatologist specializing in sudden infant death at the Children’s Hospital of the Greenville Hospital System University Medical Center. “Despite what people may hear from friends or read online, the evidence is overwhelming: a baby, especially one under 12 weeks of age, needs to sleep in a separate crib with only a fitted sheet.”

Authorities don’t know why the rate has spiked. The economy may be a factor, because parents are making do without cribs, but in some cases the parents simply wanted the child to be very close to them so that they could hear every movement and keep watch over the baby.

“SIDS has no apparent cause. But that’s not the case with these deaths; these were healthy babies that died accidental – and totally – preventable deaths,” said Ferlauto. October is national SIDS Awareness Month. 

The take-away message for parents is that all babies need to put to sleep on their backs in safe cribs with firm, tight-fitting mattresses covered with crib sheets and nothing else in it. To keep the baby warm, use a sleep sack, or wearable blanket.

For parents who want to be very close by to their babies, Ferlauto suggested room sharing. Studies show that sleeping in the same room but in separate beds can actually reduce the incidence rate of SIDS. Having the crib, play yard or bassinet in the parent’s room during the first six months also allows for more convenient feeding.

Parents should never put their babies to sleep on beds, sofas, recliners, chairs, soft surfaces, bouncy chairs, baby swings, water beds or car seats. Likewise, parents should avoid pillows, loose sheets or blankets, stuffed toys, crib bumpers and other soft bedding products. Sleep positioners, advertised to keep babies on their backs, have been shown to be entanglement or suffocation risks and should be avoided.

Children’s Hospital and Safe Kids Upstate have partnered to educate parents about unsafe sleep environments and to provide portable cribs to eligible families. Since being formed in 2007, the Upstate Cribs for Kids program has provided eligible families with more than 860 cribs through 18 referring agencies in the Upstate. It was the first chapter in South Carolina and is part of the national Cribs for Kids campaign.  

To quality for a free Graco Pack-n-Play®, the caregiver must meet requirements including attending a safe sleep education session and referral by a referral partner such as Greenville County Schools or New Horizon Family Health Services. For a list of referral agencies, go to or call 864/454-1100.