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Posted On September 18, 2020

Mechanical Suffocation: The Leading Cause of Infant Death

Mechanical suffocation is the leading cause of infant death in America, accounting for 80% of infant mortality in 2017.

Preventing Mechanical Suffocation in Infants

In the United States, there are approximately 3,500 sleep-related deaths among infants each year caused by accidental mechanical suffocation. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most of these types of deaths can be prevented. Most mechanical suffocation deaths occur to infants one-year-old or younger who lose their ability to breathe due to smothering or strangulation.

Newborns and young infants cannot lift their heads well, so they can easily get stuck in a position that blocks their breathing. When infants cannot roll over, shift positions, or lift their heads, they can get entangled in bedding such as sheets and blankets and suffocated by pillows, toys, stuffed animals, and loose objects in their cribs. Pillows and blankets in cribs frequently cause unintentional suffocation and strangulation of infants. Safety experts recommend that parents remove these items from cribs to prevent mechanical suffocation during sleep.

Safety experts stress the importance of purchasing a newer model safe crib and providing a safe, healthy sleep environment for infants. Parents should make sure that the crib meets the safety standards of the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association. If using an older crib, parents should check for recalls and features like too much space between crib slats that may cause infant injury or death. If a soda can fits between the crib slats, an infant’s head and/or arms and legs can get stuck.

Following these safety guidelines can help prevent mechanical suffocation:

  • Avoiding cribs with drop-side rails
  • Checking the crib for broken or missing parts
  • Providing a firm mattress and only using a tight-fitting crib sheet
  • Avoiding putting crib bumpers, heavy blankets, quilts, pillows, and toys in the crib
  • Placing the baby on his/her back for sleeping
  • Avoiding placing a crib near a window, large furniture item, or heater

In some cases, personal injury attorneys see mechanical suffocation caused by defective cribs and/or crib parts. One of the most recent hazardous infant bedding designs is the drop-side crib which allows easier access to the baby. In the last four years, cribs with drop-side rails have been linked to 3,529 infant injuries and 32 infant deaths. The Consumer Product Safety Commission has now barred cribs with detaching drop-side rails.

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