YORK COUNTY, Pa. (WHTM) — Most American parents know it, and that knowledge has saved countless lives.

“We estimate there about 150,000 people alive today because of the ‘back to sleep’ campaign,” which encouraged parents to place infants on their backs for sleeping, said Dr. Michael Goodstein, a neonatologist at WellSpan York Hospital.

But most of that progress happened in the first decade after “Back to Sleep,” which went public in 1994 based on findings finalized in 1992, said Goodstein, speaking Tuesday to media alongside York County Coroner Pam Gay.

A coroner rarely shows up to deliver good news, and indeed, Gay said nearly halfway through the year, she has already confirmed six sudden unexplained infant deaths, including from sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS, so far in 2022. That’s more than the four or five she said the county typically documents in an entire year.

“A new life is barely beginning, and then suddenly it ends,” Gay said.

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Goodsmith and Gay said York’s figures reflect a national trend. Nationally, they said, SIDS cases dropped by more than have between 1994 and the early 2000s before plateauing and recently increasing. Adams County, which often documents no SIDS cases in a year, already has two in 2022, said Goodstein, citing data from that county’s coroner.

Gay said nearly all SIDS deaths are preventable and occur largely because of where and how someone placed the baby so sleep.

What’s happening?

Often parents do know what to do — and do it, Goodsmith said. But then another caregiver — a babysitter, a grandparent or someone else — places the baby to sleep on its tummy, giving that baby fully 18 times the risk of dying from SIDS compared to when it is sleeping on its back.

But why not just the plateau but the reversal in progress?

Goodstein said the popularity among some parents of bedsharing — letting an infant sleep in the parents’ bed — contributes.

“A mother rolls over, and that baby’s face is into the cushion because they’re face down, and then there’s the weight of that arm on top of that,” he said, pointing to an illustration of the danger, adding that the most dangerous place of all for a baby to sleep is on a sofa.

The safest place? On its back in its own crib — with nothing else in the crib. That includes crib bumpers and inclined sleepers, which are so dangerous they’re now illegal to sell, and also means “no pillows, no stuffed animals, no loose blankets or comforters,” he said.

Parents, Goodstein said, worry babies will be cold. The solution?

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“Keep the room at a comfortable temperature,” he said. “Whatever number of layers the adult needs to wear to be comfortable, the baby generally just needs one more layer.”

That layer can be a wearable blanket. It’s also fine to swaddle the baby if you know how to do so correctly, he said.

One counterintuitive but important point: Devices that keep babies safe in other situations aren’t safe for long periods of sleep.

“Sitting devices like car seats and strollers, swings, carriers and slings are not recommended for routine sleep,” Goodstein said.

Needless to say, the baby needs to be in a car seat when it’s traveling in a car. “But when you get to your destination and your baby is sleeping, you need to get them out of that and into a safe sleep environment” rather than just carrying the seat inside and allowing the baby to continue sleeping in it,” he said.

Goodstein said babies who die suddenly while sleeping sometimes might have another underlying issue, such as a heart issue, but won’t be lethal unless they’re also sleeping improperly.

The solution: Proper sleep positioning rather that trying to detect a difficult-to-detect issue that only matters if the baby is positioned improperly.

“Wearable monitors are very popular, but they’re not approved and are not capable of preventing a baby from dying,” Goodstein said.

Gay said considering the risk, the sacrifices are small.

“Parents can have a lifetime of happy memories as they watch their child grow into adulthood,” she said, “instead of the pain and sadness of losing what could have been.”

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