Elizabeth Regan photo
Sen. Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk (Elizabeth Regan photo)

The Senate unanimously passed a bill to help bring awareness to unsafe sleep practices that claim the lives — through airway blockage, entrapment or suffocation — of more than a dozen Connecticut babies each year. 

The bill, now on its way to the House, requires hospitals to provide parents or legal guardians of newborns with written informational materials on safe sleep practices, including the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics, before they are discharged.

Connecticut Hospital Association Spokeswoman Michele Sharp said hospitals already provide information regarding recommended sleep practices for infants, but the legislation would reinforce the important practice.

Sharpe said information is currently provided to parents in writing and then reviewed with a nurse prior to discharge.

State Sen. Terry Gerratano, co-chairman of the Public Health Committee, said the legislation will establish a uniform protocol for all hospitals to follow.

Seven other states have passed similar laws, according to the National Conference on State Legislatures: California, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, and Texas.

According to a report from the state Office of the Child Advocate and the Child Fatality Review Panel, infants are more likely to die from unsafe sleeping conditions than from child abuse or from accidents including car crashes, choking, drowning, or falls. In 2013, there were at least 18 children whose unexpected deaths were accompanied by risk factors associated with their sleep environments. The average age at time of death was 3 months.

The most common fatal scenarios reported in the state range from more publicized risks, like putting a baby to sleep on his or her stomach, to lesser known dangers like allowing a newborn or infant to sleep overnight in a carseat that has been removed from the vehicle.

Other situations that have led to the deaths of Connecticut babies include co-sleeping with a parent or sibling, being put to sleep in an adult bed with a bottle, and sleeping in a crib with blankets or pillows.

In testimony before the Committee on Public Health earlier in the session, Willimantic Police Department Deputy Police Chief Jack Reed said he never forgets the death of a child.

“About 20 years ago, I investigated a death of a one- or two-month-old child,” he said. “The baby was smothered by her mother while co-sleeping in a single size bed. I can still remember the impression of the blue cross-checked knit receiving blanket on the baby’s face.”

He went on to say there was a bassinet nearby in which the baby could have slept safely, if only the mother — who was staying at a family shelter at the time — had known about the dangers in her own bed.

“I remember other cases,” he said. “Lots and lots of toys and stuffed animals in the child’s bed. Lots of pretty blankets in the bed. Bumpers in the beds so that the babies won’t hit their head. Wonderful parents now devastated at the loss of their beautiful child. Had anyone told them that it was unsafe to have toys blankets and bumpers in the child’s bed?”

Associate Medical Examiner Susan S. Williams said in her testimony that autopsies on children are the most difficult part of her job. The hardest part to take, she said, is that most of the 100 postmortem examinations she has performed on infants could have been prevented.

Williams testified that no family is immune from the risks presented by unsafe sleep conditions. “People need to understand that, yes, it could happen to them. It could happen the very first time they sleep with their baby or lay him/her face down on a fluffy pillow, or, even if they do everything the same, for some unknown reason, it could happen the 100th time.”