It was a Sunday night in June 2007, in Ho-Ho-Kus, New Jersey. Lisa DeMarco finished nursing 3-week-old Andrew and went to bed. At 10 p.m., her husband, Frank, tried to give Andrew a bottle of pumped breast milk, as had been their custom. But Andrew was uncharacteristically fussy and didn't take it until 1 a.m. On most nights, Frank would then place him in his bassinet in the master bedroom. But this evening, saddened by news that his grandmother had died and trying to calm the baby, Frank fell asleep on the couch holding Andrew against his chest.
The next thing anyone remembers, it was 5 a.m. Lisa ran down the stairs because Andrew hadn't woken up for his 4 a.m. meal. Frank was screaming that Andrew felt lifeless and cold. Lisa immediately began giving Andrew CPR and paramedics arrived within minutes, but it was too late: The baby was a victim of sudden infant death syndrome.
Between 1984 and 2004, the rate of SIDS, the diagnosis given when a healthy child suddenly dies before his first birthday, dropped from one in 700 babies to one in 1,800. This was mainly the result of an American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) campaign urging parents to put infants to sleep on their back. A small number of babies are thought to be unable to arouse from sleep normally and become deprived of oxygen when they rebreathe too much carbon dioxide. This is more likely when babies sleep on their stomach and exhaled carbon dioxide gets trapped near their face, so experts recommend that they sleep face up.
However, new figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that the SIDS rate has remained fairly stable in the last few years. Even more worrisome, the number of infant deaths attributable to accidental suffocation and strangulation in bed (when something is found over the baby's face or around his neck) tripled between 1996 and 2004. The result of these combined trends: Babies are dying unexpectedly in their sleep at a rate similar to that of 1998.