5 infants in Hillsborough County died from sleep-related suffocation in January alone

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Every year, more than 3,400 babies under the age of one suffer sleep-related deaths in the United States.

In Hillsborough County, the numbers are alarming. 8 On Your Side has learned in January alone, there were five infants who died by suffocation while sleeping in Hillsborough County. Experts said these deaths are preventable.

Vilma Kubisiak knows how important safe sleeping is for her baby, Vivian.

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“In her first year, she has been nothing but in a sleep sack at night, keeping the bed free of blankets and stuffed animals and just a good routine,” said Kubisiak.

Hillsborough County safety advocates have seen an alarming trend relating to unsafe sleep.

“Our numbers here are high and have been for quite a while,” said Lisa Colen, Healthy Start Coalition of Hillsborough County, which mission is to lower infant mortality rates in the county. “We know for example—and five deaths by suffocation just in January that we’re still investigating.”

“If there’s something over the mouth and nose of the infant, it causes them to re-breathe the carbon dioxide and they just don’t recover from that,” Colen explained.

Each year, nationwide, there are 3,400 sleep-related infant deaths, according to the CDC. The risk is five to 10 times higher while bed sharing with an adult and it’s even higher on a couch or a chair.

“We have to do is to make sure they are following the advice and ensuring that infants are in a safe, sleep situation alone on their back in a crib with no other soft bedding, or other things that could be a problem,” said Children’s Board of Hillsborough County Executive Director Rebecca Bacon.

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Bacon leads the board, which has been funding a child safety campaign for the past decade to address preventable deaths.

Bacon said in Hillsborough County in 2022, there were nine unsafe sleep deaths. The final numbers for 2023 have not yet been released.

“It is anything that can get over their face and block, their mouth and nose that can be anything as innocent as a hand or falling asleep against somebody’s chest,” said Colen. “They don’t have the muscular strength and they had a neck to pull themselves away and out of that situation like an older child would.”

The Children’s Board and Healthy Start are working together to bring awareness to unsafe sleeping to prevent the tragedy. Pediatricians said babies should sleep in pajamas or in a sleeping sack flat on their backs on fitted sheets on a firm surface. Don’t place blankets, pillows, or stuffed animals in the crib and doctors say don’t sleep with your baby it can be dangerous.

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