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Infant Deaths on the Rise in Polk County

(Des Moines, IA) – Over the past three months, infant deaths have been on the rise in Polk County. From April to June 2020, the Polk County Medical Examiner autopsied seven babies. Five out of the seven deaths occurred in unsafe sleep environments. This is a stark contrast from January to March 2020, where there was only one infant death related to natural disease.

“One infant death in Polk County is one death too many,” said Helen Eddy, director of Polk County Health Department. “This is a very preventable death and we encourage parents and caregivers to learn the dangers of unsafe sleep environments before it’s too late.”

According to, More than 3,500 babies in the U.S. die suddenly and unexpectedly every year while sleeping. Most of these deaths are ruled to be “Undetermined” due to a lack of significant autopsy findings but all too often the child is found in an unsafe sleep environment.  Examples of unsafe sleep deaths include:

  • Accidental suffocation from unsafe co-sleeping with parents and/or siblings.
  • Sleeping in a chair, bed, couch, sofa, air mattress or pillow fort.
  • Sleeping on a mattress that is too soft. 
  • Sleeping in an adult bed.
  • Sleeping with blankets, pillows and stuffed animals.
  • Crib not meeting safety standards and not following manufacture instructions.

“One of the best things you can do to prevent an infant death is make a plan with your partner and childcare provider for a safe sleep environment,” said Jessica LaCroix, Injury Prevention Coordinator, Blank Children’s Hospital.

Your safe sleep plan should include the following prevention strategies:

  • Until their first birthday, babies should sleep on their backs for all sleep times—for naps and at night.
  • Keep baby's sleep area in the same room where you sleep for the first 6 months or, ideally, for the first year.
  • Only bring your baby into your bed to feed or comfort.
  • Baby should sleep on a firm surface. This can include a crib, bassinet, portable crib, or play yard that meets the safety standards of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
  • Keep soft objects, loose bedding, or any objects that could increase the risk of entrapment, suffocation, or strangulation out of the baby's sleep area.

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