Richmond leaders warn of co-sleeping, exposure to drugs after infant deaths more than double since last year


Richmond Police Lieutenant Erlan Marshall speaks at a press conference Wednesday, urging parents to avoid co-sleeping and keep drugs away from children after the area has seen a rise in child deaths. (Photo: 8News reporter Sabrina Shutters)

RICHMOND, Va (WRIC) – Child deaths in Richmond have more than doubled since last year. Now, community leaders are asking parents to avoid co-sleeping, or sleeping with your infant.

Five children have lost their lives because of co-sleeping in 2021 alone in Richmond. Now, Richmond Police and Virginia Commonwealth University Health are asking parents to heed their warning to avoid it.

“Co-sleeping, of course, is an issue and has been an issue for decades,” said VCU Health pediatric emergency medicine Dr. Patrick McLaughlin.

Dr. McLaughlin has seen the increase in co-sleeping deaths firsthand.

“When children are brought to the emergency department having suffered from this issue of suffocation or [sudden infant death syndrome] and co-sleeping, there’s very little that we can accomplish for that family,” he said.

Community leaders said accidental deaths like those from co-sleeping are completely preventable. They suggest placing your infant on a firm sleep surface like a crib, bassinet or play yard, which is also known as a pack n’ play.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents keep the baby’s sleep area in the same room where they sleep for their first six months.

Dr. McLaughlin said sleeping with a child increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS. He added the consequences are devastating.

“Which could be waking up and no longer having your child with you, you know, is heart-wrenching,” he said.

Another issue causing the increase in child deaths is exposure to addictive drugs. In a press conference Wednesday, Chief Smith asked parents to make sure to keep drugs out of sight and out of reach of children. He said the police department does everything they can to keep drugs out of the hands of children.

“We don’t sit in committees, we don’t sit and talk about it, officers go out every day and try to curb the drug issues that we have in the community through enforcement as well as seeking treatment for those who need it,” he said.

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