Parents warned of dangers of co-sleeping with children

Updated January 2, 2018 - 8:17 pm

At least one infant in Clark County will die this month while sleeping, a Clark County official says.

“These deaths are far too common,” said Jeanne Marsala, the executive director of Safe Kids Clark County, a program providing support and educational resources to assist parents in child safety.

According to Marsala, one or two deaths related to sleeping incidents happen in the county every month.

Each year, those fatality numbers are entered into a database through the National Center for Fatality Review and Prevention, which shows that in 2016, Clark County saw 25 sleeping-related infant deaths.

Not all countywide sleeping deaths this year have been entered into the center’s child fatality database, Department of Child and Family Services spokeswoman Karla Delgado said. But in 2017, pending the missing data, there were five known infant sleeping deaths and at least one co-sleeping incident that nearly killed an infant in Clark County.

“You can have babies in very affluent homes and babies who live in very poor homes, but none of that matters because co-sleeping deaths is something we see across the valley,” Metropolitan Police Department officer Laura Meltzer said. “It can happen to anyone.”

On Dec. 4, an afternoon nap turned deadly when 9-month-old Cayden Triggs stopped breathing while sleeping next to his father in their Las Vegas home. Emergency personnel performed CPR on Cayden, but the infant died the same day at Summerlin Hospital Medical Center.

Weeks later, the Clark County coroner determined that Cayden had died from asphyxiation and wedging. His death was ruled an accident.

In the Las Vegas Valley, the Metropolitan Police Department will see about 21 deaths annually from unsafe sleeping.

“And that’s just in our jurisdiction,” Meltzer said. “But that number holds steady most years.”

A mother herself, Meltzer is a fierce advocate for safer child sleeping environments.

“Prevention and education are the key components to making sure we don’t have any more co-sleeping deaths,” she said.

No safe way to co-sleep

There was little sleep to be had during her first two years of motherhood, Meltzer recalled.

“I mean, just thinking about my first baby and how little sleep we got,” she said. “Let’s just say the big danger here is exhausted parents who accidentally fall asleep with their babies. You lie down for a second and next thing you know, you’re sound asleep, and when you wake up, you realize your baby has been in a position where she can’t breathe.”

But it is rare for parents to face criminal charges in connection with their baby’s sleeping-related death, Meltzer and Marsala said.

“Our focus isn’t prosecution because this is usually accidental,” Meltzer said. “Keeping in mind that babies have no control over their environment, we weigh the totality of the circumstances, and we reserve criminal charges for the most egregious cases.”

Cayden’s father, she added, has not been charged in his son’s death.

“These deaths just really come down to a lack of knowledge,” Marsala said, echoing Meltzer. “In fact, the people usually sleeping with their kids are the overprotective parents. But the truth is there’s just no safe way to co-sleep.”

Crib or playpen best

But it isn’t co-sleeping alone driving Clark County’s numbers of sleep-related deaths.

“Most of the time, they’re suffocating in the bedding or because of a stuffed animal left in the crib,” Marsala said. “Wait until they’re at least 1 year old for all of that.”

The safest place for a baby to sleep is in a crib that meets U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission standards, according to the American Academy for Pediatrics.

For parents who can’t afford a crib, Marsala suggests using a playpen in its place.

“Babies need their own place to sleep,” she said. “The playpen will be much safer than in bed next to a parent or sibling or pet.”

Parents can find more information about safe infant sleeping environments on the Southern Nevada Health District website.

Contact Rio Lacanlale at or 702-383-0381. Follow @riolacanlale on Twitter.

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