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York case furthers debate against parents co-sleeping with infants

BRIANNA SHEA
YorkDispatch

About a month ago, York City man Andrew Jae Becker was acquitted of murder and convicted of lesser charges in the death of 13-month-old Liliana Lunsford.

His mother had been babysitting the girl, whom he considered his niece. He had been drinking and was upset that the mother of his own daughter had taken his little girl out of state, so he wanted to sleep with Liliana on his chest to provide himself comfort, he testified.

When he woke up, she was unconscious.

Police who responded said Becker had ligature marks around his neck, and he told them he tried to hang himself in his room after he found her unresponsive.

How she died remains a mystery, but senior deputy prosecutor Chuck Murphy said he hoped the case served as a lesson about co-sleeping.

Recommendations: Co-sleeping is sleeping within a sensory distance so parent and child can tell they are close.

Medical groups say it's dangerous, while some parents argue it strengthens the bond between parent and child.

York County hospitals caution new parents against it.

York Hospital spokesman Barry Sparks said the hospital's maternity doctors and nurses follow and recommend parents follow) "safe-sleep" guidelines.

"It means that a baby should be on its back, in its crib, by itself," Sparks said.

No blankets, no stuffed animals. No parents.

Memorial Hospital doesn't allow co-sleeping during the newborn's stay in the Family Birth Center, said spokesman Jason McSherry.

McSherry said the hospital follows the recommendations of the state Department of Health and Sudden Infant Death research groups. They recommend infants sleep in a crib without drop-down rails and absent of objects such as blankets, pillows or stuffed animals that could cause suffocation.

Parenting group: York-based nonprofit Family-Child Resources is a parenting program that educates and offers an array of services for parents and children.

The center does not support co-sleeping and brings awareness to the issue through classes, pamphlets and counseling, said spokeswoman Pat Mussano.

"A parent can roll over and crush the infant or the baby can suffocate due to the pillows or blankets on the bed," Mussano said. "As a mom, I never did it. It just wasn't a good idea."

York County Coroner Pam Gay, also a nurse, said "never, ever, is it safe to co-sleep with your babies."

Gay said York had 11 sleep-related deaths in 2014.

"I think in the infant sleep-related deaths, the worst year was last year, and we are on track for that again this year," she said.

Several cases of infant deaths were unable to be identified, but Sudden Infant Death Syndrome was ruled out, Gay said.

There have been cases where parents admitted to rolling over onto their children, she said.