Police-sponsored classes credited with helping lower number of sleeping infant deaths

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Jake Magee
Thursday, June 26, 2014

JANESVILLE—By 2011, Janesville police Detective Erik Goth was sick of going to baby autopsies.

From 2005 to 2010, a dozen Janesville infants less than a year old died in their sleep. Of those, eight were sleeping on their stomachs and three were co-sleeping with a parent.

“It became apparent over the course of years that these babies were face-down when sleeping,” Goth said. “In all likelihood, children were suffering from their sleeping position.”

After years of responding to infant death calls, Goth decided to do something about it.

Goth contacted the Rock County Health Department, helped work on legislation to spread awareness about safe sleeping habits for infants and partnered with Mercy Health System to teach prenatal classes.

Earlier this year, he partnered with Dean Clinic-Janesville East and St. Mary's Janesville Hospital.

Not long after Goth started teaching, Detective Christopher Buescher began acting as Goth's fill-in when he was unavailable, conducting more than a quarter of the classes. Together, the detectives teach about 50 classes a year.

“It's not simply the classes that I'm doing, this info is being widely discussed in the media,” Goth said. “It's a combination of things. The bottom line message is getting through and having an impact of infant deaths.”

Goth said he's trying to change the mindset of parents.

“If a new parent could consider sleeping infant deaths as a household accident as opposed to a medical anomaly … we could reduce the number of those deaths,” Goth said. “I think if parents thought they had control of it, they would behave differently as parents. They would take that opportunity to do something different.”

So far, it seems to be working.

Since 2011, Janesville has had no preventable, sleep-related infant deaths.

“We've been lucky. That's the worst call that anyone wants to go to,” Buescher said. “I'd like to think it (the class) makes a difference.”

Buescher lost a brother to sudden infant death syndrome in 1973, so this subject is near his heart.

One of the infant death calls the police responded to resulted from an intoxicated woman falling asleep on the couch with her child. Buescher warned that parents who drink or smoke could increase the likelihood of SIDS.

“It's important to me. I can help, so I'll do that,” he said. “I'm not an expert; it's just a topic I think is important.”

The children Goth is most concerned about belong to parents who don't educate themselves. Those who attend the classes are already making efforts to properly care for their newborns, but others might not be, he said.

Goth encouraged those in the classes to spread the knowledge to relatives, friends and babysitters.

“Back in 1992—that's when I had my son—I would have appreciated having someone come and talk to me about this. It would have been beneficial,” Goth said.

“It's by far the most preventable cause of death that I'm aware of.”

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