Eight children have died in Greenville County in the past two weeks, an unusually high number in a short period of time, Deputy Coroner Kent Dill said.
All but one of the cases are still under investigation so the causes of death haven’t been determined, but three of the children had been sleeping in an adult bed, Dill said.
One was in a bassinet with pillows and blankets.
Cause of death has been determined in the case of a 12-year-old who was riding with his stepfather on a dirt bike that was hit by a car, he said.
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It will be weeks before the Coroner’s Office gets autopsy and toxicology reports on the rest.
The Child Fatality Review Board will investigate the deaths at its monthly meeting in May to see what can be done to prevent further deaths.
Dill said the number of children who die sleeping in an adult bed has increased during the past two years.
The review board as well as the Greenville Health System and Bon Secours St. Francis Health System have made safe sleeping for children a priority, he said.
“We try to do extensive training on the safest way for children to sleep,” he said.
That is in a crib or bassinet equipped with a fitted sheet only, Dill said. No stuffed animals, bumper pads or other covers.
The increase of deaths here comes as what is commonly called co-sleeping has become more popular.
The trend has caught hold with parents who believe sleeping with their children encourages deeper bonding between parent and child, makes breastfeeding easier and allows the child and mother to sleep more naturally.
Dr. James McKenna, director of the Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory at the University of Notre Dame who has done extensive studies on co-sleeping, said in a phone interview from his South Bend, Ind., office that co-sleeping covers a wide variety of behaviors, including keeping the baby in a bassinet in the same room, but the most controversial has been bed sharing.
“Sleeping with the mother is not an unsafe environment,” he said. “It’s the manner in which we do it.”
He said breastfeeding is a prerequisite. Bottle-fed babies sleep deeper and move around. Breastfeeding mothers are more attuned to the child’s movements. Risk factors include heavy coverings and pillows, having other children or unrelated males in the bed and any use of alcohol, drugs or sedatives by the mother.
Never should a parent sleep with a child on a couch, in a chair or when excessively tired.
“Educate, educate, educate,” he said.
Dill said he expects the review board to focus on what can be done to decrease the number of deaths of children sleeping in adult beds. Many years ago, the board focused on the number of children who die in car accidents by advancing education and training about child safety seats.
Since then the use of car seats has increased, and the number of deaths has all but gone away, he said.
In addition to the four sleeping-related incidents, all involving children three months or younger, two children were involved in vehicle-related accidents. Another child was found unresponsive in a bathtub, and another suffered cardiac arrest at a local park.
Dill said child deaths are the most emotionally charged cases his office handles.
“We all have children and grandchildren and feel for these families,” he said.
“We evaluate facts and try to be as thorough and complete as possible. We can’t change the outcome, but we can provide the family with good information that will allow the family some sort of closure.”