Infant Death at Child Care Raises Concerns about Weighted Blankets

By Expert Contributor Katie Kovaleski

Practicing Safe Product Use Can Save Your Child’s Life

A tragic story was recently published by the St. Louis Post-Disptach chronicling the death of a 7-month old child at a day care facility in St. Louis.

"Owen Haber was about 19 pounds the day he was found on his abdomen not breathing in a crib at a state-licensed child care center in Webster Groves; a blanket found bunched up below the 7-month-old’s waist weighed nearly a quarter of his weight" (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 2014).

Owen passed away the following day at a local hospital. After an investigation, officials at the medical examiners office attributed the death to SIDS. While the details of this ruling were not released or expressed in the

St. Louis Post-Dispatch article, as a sleep professional I have some questions and concerns regarding the cause of death.

I find it questionable, as well as statistically unlikely, that this baby's death can be attributed solely to SIDS: "Most SIDS deaths occur in babies between 1 month and 4 months of age, and the majority (90%) of SIDS deaths occur before a baby reaches 6 months of age" (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 2013). In addition to age, the SIDS factor “Unaccustomed tummy sleeping” may play a role: “if the infant usually sleeps on the back and then is placed on the tummy for sleep, there is as much as an 18 times greater risk" (Child Care Quarterly., 2014). I would consider using a blanket that was nearly a quarter of his weight to fall into the category of "unaccustomed tummy sleeping."

Owen was a healthy 7-month old baby boy who was out of the 90th percentile of risk for SIDS and who had most likely mastered the ability to roll onto and off of his tummy. The likelihood of this death being caused by SIDS is remote. Let's talk for a minute about the REAL issue here: the gross negligence and misuse of a product that is specifically made for older children.

The weighted blanket that was used on Owen is a product that should have come with instructions that specifically outline appropriate use and weight limitations. These blankets should never be used without parental consent and without the consent and recommendation of a health care provider or occupational therapist. None of those factors were considered in Owen's case.

"State interviews of staff members at Webster Child Care suggest the center had eight weighted blankets in its preschool rooms. Jones, the center’s director, told state investigators the blankets were sometimes used with preschool-age children with a referral by a child’s occupational therapist and parental consent. Yet the center had no written protocol regarding their use, nor consent forms.

The report further indicates the blankets also were being used with much younger children. The center’s infant and toddler program director told investigators she had purchased four weighted blankets for those rooms. She also said she had seen information elsewhere that the blankets were appropriate for infants and toddlers. She said the blankets were rarely used on infants unless she was consulted and the parents were contacted." (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 2014)

Owen was placed under a blanket that was nearly two times as heavy as it should have been for use with an infant. That's assuming the product that was used (the blanket manufacturer wasn't named in the article) was even appropriate for use with children less than 2-3 years of age. It is my belief as a certified pediatric sleep consultant that this situation could have been avoided if the childcare facility had done something as simple as READ DIRECTIONS.

It's very troublesome that "the nationally accredited center is licensed to care for 165 children and operates five infant and toddler rooms in addition to classrooms for older children" (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 2014). It begs the question: how often does this happen in childcare facilities around the country?

I encourage parents who use childcare facilities or have friends/loved ones who use them to question these providers about safe sleep practices. Ask specific questions about products like these and whether or not they are used in their facility. I would also encourage you to be very explicit and even provide your feelings in writing that these types of products should not be used on your child without written consent.

I would also encourage parents to talk to their childcare facilities about requiring their employees to take a course on safe sleep. Owen's childcare facility is nationally accredited and state licensed and clearly doesn't provide effective training on safe sleep practices. Providing training on safe sleep practices and products is easy enough and should be a state mandated requirement when running any type of childcare.

The bottom line- Owen's story is tragic, and I believe might have been avoidable. Unfortunately, no one will ever know if this death could have been prevented had that blanket not been used. Please be diligent about properly using child products; simply reading instructions could save your child's life.

H/T St. Louis Post-Dispatch