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Safety Alert!

Suffocation

If you're the parent of a newborn, chances are you've removed suffocation hazards like stuffed animals, bulky comforters, and pillows from the baby's crib. But don't overlook the possible danger of letting your infant sleep beside you in your bed. "Particularly in the first few weeks after birth, new mothers may be so sleep-deprived that they let the child fall asleep at the breast and then inadvertently roll over on top of him," says Angela Mickalide, program director of the National Safe Kids Campaign. "Infants don't have the neck and arm muscle strength to lift their heads or free themselves from tight places."

Experts are divided on the safety of bed sharing. It may be particularly dangerous when a parent has been drinking or is on heavy medication. However, some studies on mother-infant bed sharing and sudden infant death syndrome show that under normal conditions (you're not overtired, haven't been drinking or taking any strong medicine), a mother is aware of her child being in bed with her, and therefore is not likely to suffocate the baby. Whether your infant sleeps with you or in a crib, once the baby is older and able to roll over, usually around 4 to 7 months, the hazards of suffocation will lessen.

Don't assume toddlers and older children aren't at risk of suffocation: In 1996, nearly 2,000 children age 14 and under were treated in emergency rooms for plastic-bag-related injuries. On average, 20 children under 5 die each year after suffocating due to a plastic bag. "Children see them as toys, and parents leave them within reach," says Dr. Silver.

Store plastic bags in a cabinet with a child-resistant latch. When disposing of them  -- especially dry-cleaning bags, which are thinner and easily conform to a child's airway  -- use receptacles that your child can't get into.

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