To document specific patterns and products associated with mechanical suffocation among infants younger than 13 months of age for the period 1980 to 1997.


A total 2178 case summaries from the US Consumer Product Safety Commission's Death Certificate File were reviewed. A computerized database was created for information about the infants, products, and patterns of suffocation. The relationships among products, patterns, and age groups were analyzed by χ2. Thirty-eight investigations conducted on a subset of cases involving cribs were reviewed for details on crib age, structural integrity, and compliance with the federal crib regulation. Mortality rates were calculated based on the US population younger than 1 year old.


The most frequent causes of suffocation were 1) wedging between a bed or mattress and a wall and 2) oronasal obstruction by plastic bag. Patterns of suffocation were significantly related to age group, but not to sex. Pattern-specific mortality rates comparing three time frames for the the 16-year period from 1980 to 1995 showed continued increases for overlain and oronasal obstruction; an increase followed by a plateau for wedging, a decrease for hanging, and no substantial change for entrapment with suspension.


Suffocation hazards presented by beds, bedding, pillows, and plastic bags continue to be underrecognized by parents and caregivers. Bed-sharing and use of adult beds for infants should be discouraged. Only complying cribs should be used and maintained properly to ensure structural integrity. Suffocation deaths involving plastics should be investigated to determine the specific material characteristics and use patterns to design more effective interventions than selective labeling.

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