Hugh McQuaid Photo
State Child Advocate Sarah Eagan (Hugh McQuaid Photo)

Hospitals would be required to give new parents instruction on safe newborn sleeping conditions under a bill proposed by lawmakers seeking to reduce preventable infant deaths.

During a Friday press conference, State Child Advocate Sarah Eagan, co-chair of the state Child Fatality Review Panel, said complications from unsafe sleep conditions are the leading cause of accidental death among infants in the state.

“Not a month goes by when we don’t review a tiny baby who died in a bed — with a blanket, with a pillow, wedged unexpectedly, accidentally strangled, or asphyxiated — and these tragedies are so terrible,” she said.

The bill, introduced by Democrats in the Senate, would require hospitals to provide parents with the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendations for infant sleeping conditions. The information cautions parents against number of common sleeping conditions, including:

-Allowing a baby to sleep with adults in a full-sized bed
-Placing the baby in a crib on their stomachs
-Putting the infant to bed with blankets and pillows
-Allowing the baby to go to sleep with a bottle in an adult bed

On the other hand, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend parents:

-Put infants to bed on their backs
-Make sure the crib provides a firm sleeping surface with a fitted sheet
-Locate the baby’s crib in the parents’ room
-Remove all soft objects, such as pillows, stuffed animals, and loose sheets, from the crib

Parents concerned about keeping their sleeping children warm should dress their infants in layers rather than use blankets, Dr. Kirsten Bechtel, an associate professor of pediatric emergency medicine at Yale University School of Medicine, said. Infants can become entrapped loose blankets or overheat, she said.

Infants should wear “maybe one more layer than the parents have on when they’re going to bed, but they don’t need the blankets and pillows and comforters” to keep warm, Bechtel said.

Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff said most parents strive to provide the safest environment for their newborns but do not always have access to the best information.

“We all know that when we bring a child home from a hospital, a manual does not accompany your child. But having information that is from the hospital is clearly very important,” he said.

Seven other states have passed legislation requiring hospitals to provide the information. Dr. Michael J. Soltis, a pediatrician at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center in Hartford, said some Connecticut hospitals already provide similar instruction to new parents.

“But the message can be very inconsistent, even within my own institution, and I’m sure institutions across the state,” he said. Soltis said the bill will make sure hospitals consistently provide the best advice.

“A newborn infant — to be the parent of that child, you are completely receptive for good and bad information. So it’s important to get that correct message to parents at that critical moment and really change practice,” he said.