It's a horrifying scenario for a parent -- falling asleep with a baby and waking up to find the child is dead.
But it's something the Erie County Child Fatality Review Board has had to confront.
Health commissioner Peter Schade said that in 2006 and 2007 there have been three baby deaths in Erie County attributed to co-sleeping -- falling asleep with an infant and accidentally smothering it. Two other possible cases were investigated but attributed to SIDS, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
After the review board's annual meeting on Dec. 10, the health department plans to join forces with other local public health agencies such as Firelands Regional Medical Center and Erie County Job and Family Services for a public awareness campaign to combat co-sleeping, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and Shaken Baby Syndrome.
Schade said he can't reveal many details because of privacy laws, but said there has been one co-sleeping death in Erie County this year and two in 2006.
None of the three deaths seem to be related to alcohol or drug abuse, Schade said. "They were all just unfortunate circumstances that occurred," he said.
Statewide statistics for 2005 compiled by the state health department, the latest numbers available, showed 216 cases of infants who died while sleeping. They included 56 deaths from suffocation, 54 deaths from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and 52 deaths from congenital anomalies.
Bed-sharing was the most frequently reported factor in sleep-related baby deaths, the report said. It said that when the 54 SIDS deaths were excluded, 71 percent of the remaining infant deaths "involved infants sharing a sleep surface."
Schade said he wants the planned public service campaign to remind parents that when a baby wakes them up in the middle of the night, Mom or Dad should take care of the baby's needs in a way that makes sure the parent will remain awake and return the baby to the crib.
"Even if they cry themselves to sleep, it's safer," Schade said. "Don't put the baby in your bed. Don't sit on the La-Z-Boy chair. It's easy to be so exhausted you fall asleep."
Schade said the health department is preparing a public service poster, which it would be happy to share with agencies in other counties or other states, and will ask other public agencies in Erie County to reinforce the message.
Schade is chairman of Erie County's Child Fatality Review Board, which also includes Erie County Coroner Brian Baxter, Sheriff Terry Lyons, Erie County Job and Family Services director Judy Englehart, Erie County Health Department medical director Dr. Richard Visci and other local public health and public safety officials.
By law, the panel reviews all deaths of Erie County children younger than 18. It has reviewed seven deaths so far this year.
The health department created a secure Web site so members of the review board can review reports on each death shortly after they occur without having to wait until the December annual meeting to study the case, Schade said.