Learn tips to prevent the top three causes of preventable child deaths in Tampa Bay and share them with family and caregivers.
In the Tampa Bay area, nearly 200 children under the age of 6 have died in the last five years (2012-2016) from the top three causes of preventable child death: drowning, unsafe sleep practices and abusive head trauma.
These tragedies can happen to anyone, and every member of our community – not just parents – bears the responsibility of educating themselves on these dangers.
While you are preparing your home and family for your new baby’s arrival, take a few moments to learn the measures you can take once your baby is born to prevent needless child deaths in our community.
Safe sleep practices
More infants die in adult beds than anywhere else. In fact, infants are 40 times more likely to die in an adult bed than in their own cribs. Sharing a bed with an infant poses significant suffocation risks to the child, due to soft mattresses, pillows and comforters, and the potential for rollover.
Practice the ABCs of safe sleep. The safest way for infants to sleep is Alone on their Backs in a Crib. This minimizes the risk of the infant suffocating, especially if they have not yet developed neck muscle control. You can bring your baby’s crib into your room, too. Sharing a room with a child has almost all of the same benefits as sharing a bed, but without the risks.
Make sure to follow crib setup recommendations. A crib mattress should be firm and fit snugly inside the crib’s frame, and sheets should fit tightly around the mattress. The sleeping area should free of blankets, pillows, bumper pads, stuffed animals, sleep positioners and toys. Be sure to share this information with caregivers and grandparents who may watch your new baby.
Safe stress relief
Shaking an infant or young child – even once – can be fatal. While most parents think this tragedy could never happen to them, parents are most often responsible for causing injury or death from shaking a baby, or another form of abusive head trauma.
In most cases of abusive head trauma, or shaken baby syndrome, the parent or caregiver does not mean to harm the child, but lacks the knowledge or skills to cope with a stressful situation, such as if the baby is inconsolable. This means education is key to preventing head trauma deaths.
Crying is normal, and how babies communicate. If you’re attempting to soothe your child and you become frustrated, it’s okay to take a time out. Leave the child safely on their back in the crib and step out of the room to regroup. Check on the child frequently to ensure they are still safe.
Talk to all caregivers, including spouses and immediate family members, about the dangers of head trauma. Share the above tips with them, and watch for signs that a caregiver may not be prepared to care for a child, such as if they are easily angered, stressed, or seem inattentive.
Drowning prevention and water safety
Drowning is the leading cause of death for children ages 1 to 4 in the Tampa Bay region, and it is never too early to think about water safety. Drowning can happen to any child, anywhere, at any time. It’s not limited to pools and beaches – there are potential hazards in and around the home that can put children at risk.
A child can drown in as little as 1 inch of water. Everything from your toilet to your pet’s water bowl can pose a drowning risk. Drain bathtubs when they are no longer in use and keep bathroom doors closed.
Lack of adult supervision in and around the water is the main reason children die from drowning, so designate a “water watcher” who will keep their eyes on children at all times when kids are in or near pools, ponds and other types of water. It’s crucial for the “water watcher” to avoid distractions such as texting. If you already have children and are expecting another, identify who can help keep an eye on older children who are in or near water while you are caring for your infant.
Learn more about keeping children safe at www.preventneedlessdeaths.com.
By Kelley Parris, Executive Director, The Children’s Board of Hillsborough County
This article originally appeared in the January 2018 issue of Tampa Bay Parenting Magazine.