KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Officials in Anderson County are highlighting ‘safe sleep practices’ as the county sees a rise in infant mortality rates.

Since 2019, 14 infant deaths have been recorded in Anderson County with 10 of those deaths having been attributed to unsafe sleep practices according to a release from the county. The Knox County Regional Forensic Center tracks information related to deaths in 21 counties.

“Since 2019, we have done 185 autopsies on infants under one year (of age). One hundred of those infants died as a result of unsafe sleep environments,” Dr. Darinka Mileusnic-Polchan, chief medical examiner, said during a press conference held Wednesday morning at Anderson County EMS headquarters.

The release from the county breaks down the numbers. In 2019, one infant death in Anderson County was attributed to unsafe sleep practices. Then, in 2021, there were three infant deaths due to unsafe sleep. In 2022, two infants died and, in the first six months of 2023, four infant deaths in Anderson County have been attributed to unsafe sleep practices. Mileusnic-Polchan said this is the highest number that Anderson County has ever experienced.

“All these deaths are preventable,” Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan said.

To ensure the safety of babies during sleep, the chief medical examiner said it’s important to avoid certain practices. Infants should not sleep in adult beds with adults, held by a family member lying down on a sofa to sleep, sleep with blankets, toys, or pillows, and should not be put to sleep in baby “rockers”.

“Our goal is prevention,” said Bobbi Jo Henderson, deputy director of education for Anderson County EMS. “Babies need to sleep alone, on their backs, and in a crib. It’s ABC – alone, backs, crib. That’s the safest way.”

Anderson County EMS is working to educate the community about proper safe sleep practices that can save an infant’s life. Henderson added that if the EMS team runs a call where they notice an unsafe sleep situation, they will offer guidance and resources to the family about safe sleep.

“Getting the information out to the community to help prevent some of these situations is the main reason why we’re here today,” EMS Director Nathan Sweet said.

Additionally, If families cannot afford a proper bed for their babies, the State of Tennessee partners with first responder agencies to distribute cribs.