Five Maine infants have died since early January from suffocating while sleeping in the same bed as their parents, state officials said Friday.

All of the babies were under the age of 4 months old and their deaths by asphyxiation were ruled accidental, according to a news release from Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Mark Flomenbaum and Maine Attorney General Janet Mills. Both officials cautioned parents against sharing a bed with young children, often known as “co-sleeping.”

“I have never before seen such numbers in my 23-year-long career,” Flomenbaum said in the release. “These tragedies are easily preventable. Whether it is a desire to snuggle in cold weather or to comfort or be comforted by the infant, it is false comfort when the adult falls asleep and accidentally asphyxiates that tiny child.”

Investigations of the five deaths found no evidence that drug or alcohol use by the parents was a factor, according to the attorney general’s office.

Ten to 12 babies die as a result of unsafe sleeping circumstances in Maine every year, according to a July 2014 study published in the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. In more than 70 percent of the 8,207 sleep-related infant fatalities reported in 24 states between 2004 and 2012, babies were sharing a bed with an adult at the time of death. Younger children, 3 months old and under, were more likely to share a bed with a parent than older infants.

The American Academy of Pediatrics warns against sharing a bed or couch with an infant. The safest place for babies to sleep is in a crib or bassinet in the same room as parents, according to the academy.

“It is tempting to curl up with a baby in bed. But please resist that temptation. Don’t cuddle your child to death,” Flomenbaum said.

Babies should sleep on their backs during naps and at night, rather than on their sides or stomachs, the academy recommends. Infants also should sleep without stuffed animals, pillows or other items that can stifle breathing.

“The first weeks and months of being a parent can be exhausting, but I urge parents to heed the advice of experts and adhere to safe sleep practices,” Mills said. “The temptation to get a quick nap or to provide warmth is also an opportunity for smothering a baby quite unintentionally. Please, please, do not have your infant sleep with you. Each child is a precious and fragile being and should be treated with great care.”

Jackie Farwell

I'm the health editor for the Bangor Daily News, a Bangor native, a UMaine grad, and a weekend crossword warrior. I never get sick of writing about Maine people, geeking out over health care data, and...