A Metro Detroit mother shares the story of her daughter's death in an attempt to educate other parents about the importance of safe sleep practices.
Shareece Williams said her daughter's death was preventable, and she hopes her story will save other babies.
"It's still tough, you know," Williams said. "It's still very difficult. I think about her all the time, the time that I totally could have had with her."
Williams lost Lailah six years ago when her baby girl was just a week shy of turning 3 months old. Williams, a nurse for years, had other children before Lailah and never thought this would happen to her.
Her daughter died from unsafe sleep.
"Of course, with my background, my husband really kind of trusted the things that I said," Williams said. "I wasn't really big on putting a baby on their back. I didn't really understand the anatomy behind that and of course I had children prior to that. They went to sleep on their side, sometimes I would even place them to sleep on their stomach. I didn't think the stomach was the safest place, but I would always kind of listen out for them, you know, as a mother you always say I can hear something's going on with my child. I'll know."
Williams said her babies always slept in their own space. She never slept with them in her bed. She said she did tell her husband it's OK to sleep the baby on her stomach as long as he was watching and could hear.
Williams said it was her birthday in 2011; she had just ended a midnight shift at 7 a.m. and was looking forward to getting home and spending time with her daughter when she got a frantic call from her husband.
"He didn't know what to do, and for me, I just felt the most helpless I had ever felt in my life," Williams said.
She was 40 minutes from home and she didn't know how she was going to help him. Her husband had already called 911.
"I was listening to him describe her condition and my heart just sank because, being a nurse, I know that a patient that's blue, that looks blue, has no circulation, and this also is a baby on top of that," Williams said. "Recovery, in my mind, was just not ... possible."
By the time Williams made it to Sinai Grace Hospital, Lailah had died.
Williams said her husband had placed Lailah on her stomach in the bassinet in their bedroom. He heard her a little bit around 1 or 2 a.m., but she wasn't crying. He went back to sleep. Williams still remembers the nurse that came to their home after Lailah died to explain to them what had happened to their daughter.
"For me, I felt like I should have known," Williams said. "I should have that medical knowledge."
Unfortunately, Williams' story isn't uncommon. According to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, a baby dies every three days in Michigan due to unsafe sleep habits. All those deaths are preventable.
"These are totally healthy babies that die because they're placed either on their stomachs, or they're sharing a bed with somebody, or they're sleeping on a couch with somebody, and those numbers haven't gone down in years," said Colin Parks, state manager for Child Protective Services.
The state has been working for years to raise awareness of safe sleep habits, including public service announcements and having new parents watch educational videos while in the hospital.
Safe sleep practices for naps and nighttime include:
- Placing a baby on their back in a crib, bassinet or pack-n-play
- Using a firm mattress with tightly-fitted sheet
- Keeping area clutter free with no pillows, blankets and toys.
- Avoiding covering baby's head or overheating
- Using a sleep sack, wearable blanket or footed sleeper to keep the baby warm instead of a blanket,
- Remind everyone who cares for the baby how to keep the child safe while sleeping.
Williams is an advocate, often sharing her story, hoping her loss will help parents get the message about unsafe sleep deaths.
"I am just waiting for the day where this is such a big deal that people say, 'Oh, you don't believe in safe sleep? You can't watch my child,'" Williams said.
Williams said every daycare she takes her child to has to be safe-sleep certified for her children to go there.
"Too many still are dying, literally, and it's not SIDS," Williams said. "It's not that sudden, unexplained. This is explained. There's a reason for it. We know what's happening here."
For more information on safe sleep in Michigan, click here.
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