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ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

There's been a spike in infant deaths in the Detroit metropolitan area. Five children, ages 27 days to 3 months, have died since Saturday night. All the deaths have been linked to unsafe sleeping conditions. These incidents bring the total number of infant deaths due to suffocation to 30 in Wayne County this year.

We called on Dr. Carl Schmidt, the Wayne County chief medical examiner, to explain what happened in these cases.

CARL SCHMIDT: They occurred - as many of these infant deaths do - they were found in unsafe sleeping environment. In all five of these instances, they were co-sleeping in a bed or some other surface, along with another individual, whether it was their mother or some other close relative. It was a sibling in one of the cases.

NORRIS: When you say unsafe sleeping conditions, help us understand what you mean by that.

SCHMIDT: These are conditions in which an infant is placed to sleep, for example, placed to sleep in an adult bed rather than a crib or an approved surface for an infant to sleep in along with an adult. And oftentimes, there is more than one adult with the child in the bed. The bed may be placed against the wall so that the infant can't slip into the space between the mattress and the wall, and is just compressed and asphyxiated that way. Or, the adult can roll over the child.

Another instance is in which an infant is placed in a crib, but is placed facedown rather faceup. The other thing that people do is place objects in the crib with their infant. And these objects, such as stuffed animals for example, can obstruct the airway. Or, they can cover them with blankets, which can obstruct the upper airway and also result in the infant's asphyxia.

NORRIS: As tragic as this is, I imagine it's also a teachable moment for Wayne County. What are you doing to try to inform parents about the risks?

SCHMIDT: The county executive through the health department has launched a program in which they are going to provide X number of cribs that are readily available for the health department, and also provide some education and follow-up regarding the proper use of those cribs.

NORRIS: So the message here is if a family doesn't have a crib, the county will make them available?

SCHMIDT: That's correct.

NORRIS: In the case of these five deaths over a short period of time, what did you learn here? Is this a question of poverty? Families can't afford a bassinet or a family crib? Or, are there cultural norms also, where people come from countries where it's common for a big family to all sleep together?

SCHMIDT: Well, I think there are significant cultural factors involved in co-sleeping. But I think poverty also has something to do with it because in higher socioeconomic levels, infant deaths have decreased considerably more than they have in poorer environments.

But I think what it all boils down to is beyond cultural influences, you have to pay attention. You know, if you're only a hundred-pound adult, and your child is a standard seven-pound baby, you are 14 times heavier than that baby. And if you're tired and are sleeping deeply and you put that child in a bed with you, you may not feel yourself rolling over that child, cultural conditions notwithstanding.

NORRIS: Dr. Schmidt, I guess it goes without saying that you've had a rough week.

SCHMIDT: Yeah. Actually, it has been a rough week. In as much as I've been doing this, it's still is not easy to do this. And I happen to have young children. And you go home and you look at them, and you remind your wife why it is that you insist that they be put into a crib.

NORRIS: So it's a, before we say goodbye, it's, I guess, advice that bears repeating. What is the message you want to give listeners when it comes to co- sleeping?

SCHMIDT: The message is put your child to sleep in a crib faceup, no blanket and no other objects in the crib other than that infant.

NORRIS: Dr. Carl Schmidt, thank you very much for speaking with us.

SCHMIDT: Sure. Thank you.

NORRIS: That was Dr. Carl Schmidt, Wayne County chief medical examiner. He was speaking to us about the deaths of five children since Saturday, all due to suffocation.

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