Each year, some 3,600 babies in the U.S. die due to sudden unexpected infant death
But many of those deaths may be prevented when proper conditions are made for sleeping infants, according to state Physician General Dr. Carrie DeLone.
DeLone gathered Tuesday with local health care officials at Susquehanna Health's Williamsport Regional Medical Center to talk about the issue.
Sudden unexpected infant death, she said, is a problem that crosses all socio-economic lines.
She called losing a baby every parent's worst nightmare.
"By working together, we can and will make a difference," she said.
Many infant deaths may be attributed to unsafe sleeping environments.
Dr. Michael Goodstein, a neonatologist and member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Task Force On Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, called it a silent epidemic.
Often, infants die of suffocation or strangulation, the result sometimes of loose bedding or objects placed next to them while sleeping.
Death also can happen when a parent or other adult rolls onto a sleeping infant.
Rates of accidental suffocation and strangulation in bed increased 30 percent between 2000 and 2010, according to statistics.
Sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS, is another leading cause of sudden unexpected infant death. SIDS is the sudden death of a baby under the age of 1 year that remains unexplained after an autopsy, examination at death scene and review of baby's medical history.
Following some simple steps can avoid a fatal outcome for a baby, Goodstein said.
Infants should sleep on their backs.
And, they should always sleep alone on a firm mattress and in a safety-approved crib.
"You need to make good decisions for the baby," he said. "Share a room, not the bed."
The state Department of Health recommends that infants brought into adult beds for comfort or nursing be returned to their own beds when the adult is ready to return to sleep.
Dr. Russell Gombosi, a Susquehanna Health pediatrician and sleep medicine specialist, said infants simply are more vulnerable to an accident.
For one, they lack the ability to remove objects that might block their breathing.
Homes of all babies should be smoke-free.
Officials noted Williamport Regional Medical Center offers sleep education to new mothers who give birth to babies there.
In fact, all birthing centers in the state are mandated to provide education for parents relating to sudden infant death syndrome as well as unexpected death of infants.
Lycoming County Coroner Charles Kiessling said local education efforts may well have helped decrease the number of babies dying in recent years as a result of such accidents.
"I have not investigated an infant death in over two years," he said.
Also present was state Rep. Garth Everett, R-Muncy, who read a House resolution proclaiming November as Safe Sleep Month.