TW: infant death; substance use, specific mention of alcohol and opioids in webinar 

On 2/8/21, MCAH hosted “Infant Safe Sleep” webinar with Patti Kelly and Colleen Nelson of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to educate service providers, new parents, and other caring adults who want to learn about infant safe sleep practices for babies that are 0-to-12 months old. The webinar also highlights resources and discusses scenarios to support new parents and families experiencing homelessness. 

Overview of sleep-related infant deaths in Michigan:

  • Under the “sudden unexpected infant death” category where a baby is otherwise in good health, sleep-related infant death is the most common cause of infant death in Michigan for infants 1 month to 12 months old.
  • From 2010 to 2018, Michigan had 1,287 sleep-related infant deaths. That’s one death every 2-3 days. We learned this through post-death investigations where investigators visited families’ homes to walk through the events that led to the infant’s death.
  • There are racial disparities in rates of sleep-related infant deaths, where Black infants are 3.5 times as likely to die from sleep-related causes than white infants. Infants born prematurely (before 37 weeks) are at a 2.5 times higher risk of sleep-related death than those not born prematurely, and Black infants are 1.5 times more likely to be born prematurely than white infants. As we approach racial disparities in data, we must always keep in mind the historical context of how past and current discrimination against Black families is the root cause of these disparities, not any one individual’s actions. 
  • According to the “Sleep-Related Infant Deaths in Michigan, 2010-2018” report on, 3% of deaths (42 deaths) occurred in “other locations” (motel, homeless shelter, women’s shelter, home where parents are squatting, etc.). 

Physical risks for infants

Obstruction of the airway and overheating during sleep are some of the main physical risks that can lead to sleep-related infant death. To reduce these risks, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends: putting the baby on their back for every sleep; putting the baby in their own sleep area, such as a crib, bassinet, or pack ‘n’ play (not on or with a parent); a firm bed that doesn’t conform around the infant’s head; not wearing hats or headbands while sleeping; no blankets or toys in their sleep area. If a blanket is necessary, the use of wearable blankets is advised as there should never be a blanket in a babies sleep area.

Proactive practices

  • Safety-planning helps because even if a parent/caregiver has every intention of putting their baby to sleep in the baby’s crib/pack ‘n’ play, it’s important to have backup strategies if a parent/caregiver finds themselves holding a sleeping baby while on the couch or in bed. Tips include: setting an alarm on your phone; walk or move about while holding the baby. For service providers working with participants who use substances, it is important to have genuine rapport with participants in order to have honest conversations about how parents will manage their substance use while making a safer sleep environment for the baby.
  • Tummy-time helps to strengthen babies’ neck and shoulder muscles so that they can move their head if their airway is obstructed.
  • Breast-feeding and pacifier use are associated with decreased risk of sleep-related infant death.
  • Room-sharing with separate sleep areas makes it easier to pick up and put down the baby when in a shared room, instead of the baby being in a separate room.


  • Infant Safe Sleep
  • Safe Delivery
    • Safe Delivery is a law that allows for the safe, legal, and confidential surrender of a newborn, up to three days (72 hours) old, to an Emergency Service Provider (ESP)
  • Safe Kids Worldwide
    • a nonprofit organization working to help families and communities keep kids safe from injuries.