About 80 percent of the fatal accidents reported at day care facilities across the nation from 2008 to 2012 occurred while infants were asleep, and 60 percent of those cases involved infants lying on their stomach, a Yomiuri Shimbun survey has found.
The survey results showed such deaths have continued to occur at day care centers despite the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry's instructions to avoid letting infants sleep on their stomach.
The survey was conducted in September and October, covering municipal governments that have the day care facilities in question under their jurisdiction. The survey explored the causes and circumstances behind infant deaths.
Forty-nine of the 62 fatal cases involved deaths that occurred while the infant slept. Twenty-eight infants were found dead on their stomach, while 12 were found face up.
Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) was confirmed or suspected to be the cause of death in 20 cases, while no cause was determined in eight cases. Suffocation was confirmed or suspected in five cases.
Under the government's guidelines for day care facilities, caregivers are instructed to avoid letting infants sleep on their stomach and to remain watchful of sleeping children.
According to reports on infant deaths submitted to the government, which The Yomiuri Shimbun obtained by filing information disclosure requests, day care workers let infants sleep on their stomach or failed to watch them while they were asleep in some of the cases.
In only four, or 10 percent, of the fatal cases, day care centers conducted investigations into circumstances behind the deaths by establishing a panel that included a third party, the survey found. "The cause of death has not been determined" and "There is no stipulation that requires day care centers to establish an investigation panel" were some of the reasons cited for centers' inaction.
"It's problematic that such a large number of infants were found dead on their stomach," said Tatsuhiro Yamanaka, director of Ryokuen Children's Clinic in Yokohama and an expert on accidents involving children. "It's the role of the government, I think, to search for measures to improve the situation by examining how sleeping infants are being cared for and if there are any problems with the number of day care staff and the size of rooms or with the type of bedding."
SIDS is the sudden death of an otherwise healthy infant, usually occurring while they are sleeping. Most deaths have been reported in infants from 2 to 6 months old. In Japan, one out of 6,000 to 7,000 infant deaths are attributed to SIDS.
The health ministry advises not letting infants sleep on their stomach, as "doing so increases the risk of SIDS, compared to letting babies sleep on their back."