ALTOONA, BLAIR COUNTY - The Centers for Disease Control says infant deaths in Pennsylvania make up about half of the deaths, in people under the age of 18. One local coroner says every county in the state , except one, has an extensive child death review process.
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is the leading cause of death in babies between one month and 1 year of age and 90 percent of those deaths occur before 6 months of age.
Blair County Coroner Patty Ross says a determination that a baby's death isn't made until every other possibility is excluded.
That means "no medical reason, no crime, no co-sleeping, and that the baby actually just died due to sudden infant death," Ross says, but adds, "we have very few of those, when you start doing a good investigation."
Every potential SIDS death involves a sudden unexplained infant death investigation or SUIDI, and is conducted using standards from the CDC. The SUIDI looks at a baby's medical history, where the child was sleeping, how he or she was positioned, and what the baby was exposed to.
According to the coroner, too often investigators find that co-sleeping or items in the crib that led to suffocation, are responsible for a baby's death.
That's why why Blair County Respiratory Disease Society offers free new Pack-and-Play cribs, along with education about safe sleep for babies.
Executive Director Rachel Derby says the basics of Safe Sleep are, "you're going to put your child back to sleep on a firm surface, clear of anything, such as stuffed animals, blankets, no pillows."
Derby emphasizes that you don't want to use an old crib, that's more likely to be unsafe, and may even have been recalled. If can't afford a new one, contact the society for a Pack and Play.
She also tells parents, Safe Sleep for babies means not sharing a bed with them. "A baby's death is only once and you know what, it might not have happened to earlier siblings, but it is something that is a risk, and any time you would take a risk that might mean death , I just can't wrap my mind around that," she says.
Ross believes actual SIDS deaths around the state are down because of previous investigations and the education that has resulted from them.
She and local law enforcement officials have taught child death review processes across the state. Folks who need a crib or want more education on Safe Sleep for babies, can call the Blair County Respiratory Disease Society at 814-944-8222.