Positional Asphyxia in Infants

This happens most often in infants when their mouth/nose becomes blocked or their chest is unable to fully expand, this may lead to a lack of oxygen and suffocation (asphyxia). Positional asphyxia varies from a death from SIDS in a few important ways. A child is said to die of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) if he/she:

is less than 1 year of age,

died while sleeping and that death remains unexplained after a thorough investigation, including a complete autopsy and review of the circumstances of death and clinical history.

Why does it happen?

Positional asphyxia occurs when an infant is put to sleep or falls asleep in an unsafe sleeping environment or in an unsafe position. Examples of unsafe sleeping environments can include:

  • Couches.
  • Beanbag chairs.
  • Infants sharing a bed with others.
  • Waterbeds.
  • Pillows.
  • Cribs with mattresses that don’t properly fit.
  • Adult beds.
  • Cribs with sheepskins, quilts, other soft surfaces.
  • An unsafe position would include:
  • Sleeping face-down.
  • Sleeping in an infant carrier with head covered, or face against soft surface (including parent’s chest).
  • Side-sleeping.

Prevention of Positional Asphyxia in Infants

Prevention of positional asphyxia includes many of the same things that help to prevent SIDS:

Infants are safest when sleeping in their own crib or bassinet with a firm mattress that fits well and no extra pillows/quilts/soft toys in the area.

Infants should be placed on their back to sleep.

To promote breastfeeding, the baby should be in the same room as the mother, but while sleeping should be in his/her own crib/bassinet.

If a parent chooses to sleep with their babies, the bed should not have any blankets, comforters or pillows and should not be against a wall or have space where the baby could fall between mattress and a side, head or foot board.

Parents who sleep with their babies should not use any substance (alcohol, drugs, sleeping pills, narcotic pain medications) that would make it difficult for them to wake up.

  • D.R.S.A.B.C.D.
  • Assess position of the casualty.
  • Ensure airway is free from any blockage.
  • If casualty is conscious roll them onto their side.
  • If casualty is unconscious and breathing normally roll them onto their side.
  • If casualty is unconscious and not breathing normally commence CPR.