The tragic and well-publicized death of a month-old boy (and now his mother to suicide) highlights the dangers of parents co-sleeping with infant children. Studies have shown a particular risk when parents consume alcohol and then co-sleep on beds or sofas -- the danger often being that the parents roll over and unwittingly suffocate their children.

Last November, mother Toni Medrano of Cottage Grove reportedly fell asleep with her infant son, Adrian, and rolled on top of him. The boy died of asphyxia on Nov. 22, and his mother was charged earlier this year with two counts of manslaughter. The mother's reported heavy consumption of vodka fueled publicity of the case, including a June 11 segment on the Nancy Grace cable talk show in which the host referred to Medrano as "vodka mom."

The latest news today is that Modrano set herself on fire in the back yard of her mother's home in St. Paul Park on July 2 and was pronounced dead at Regions Hospital in St. Paul on July 7.

UPDATE TO THE BLOG: This incident was apparently one of 21 infant deaths in Minnesota last year that involved co-sleeping. The Minnesota Department of Health is now tracking this problem through a federal grant it received to research the underlying causes of sudden unexplained infant deaths. Those 21 constituted nearly half of the 45 unexplained infant deaths that were sleep-related last year -- and a third of the 60 unexplained deaths overall, according to preliminary state 2011 data.

Regardless of the presence of co-sleeping parents or other adults, it is dangerous for infants to sleep in adult beds at all, said Lara Lawani, a state epidemiologist in charge of the unexplained infant death research. There were 26 deaths involving sleeping infants in adult beds, and 4 in sofas, in 2011.

British research has also showed that parental alcohol consumption is a significant risk factor. Evaluating a group of infants who died of SIDS and related causes in a region of England, researchers found 54 percent of the infants had been co-sleeping with their parents. Alcohol consumption was much more common in the study among parents whose children died while co-sleeping compared to parents who did not drink but also engaged in co-sleeping with their children.

Prevention tips from the Minnesota Sudden Infant Death Center can be found here:

1. Always place baby on his or her back for naps and at night.

2. Place baby on a firm sleep surface, such as on a safety approved crib and mattress, covered by a fitted sheet. Never place baby to sleep on pillows, quilts, sheepskin, or other soft surfaces.

3. Keep soft objects, toys, and loose bedding out of baby’s sleep area. Don’t use pillows, blankets, quilts, sheepskins or pillow-like crib bumpers in your baby’s sleep area and keep all items away from baby’s face.

4. Do not allow smoking around your baby. Don’t smoke before or after the birth of your baby. Don’t let others smoke around baby. Babies and young children exposed to smoke have more colds and other diseases, as well as an increased risk of SIDS.

5. Keep your baby’s sleep area close to, but separate from where you or others sleep. Your baby should not sleep in a bed or on a couch or armchair with adults or other children. Baby can sleep in the same room as you. If you bring baby to bed to breastfeed put baby back in a separate sleep area such as a bassinet or crib when finished.

6. Think about using a clean, dry pacifier when placing your infant down to sleep but don’t force baby to take it. If you are breastfeeding, wait until baby is one month old or is used to breastfeeding before offering a pacifier.

7. Do not let your baby overheat during sleep. Dress baby in light sleep clothing. Keep room at a temperature that is comfortable for an adult.

8. Avoid products that claim to reduce the risk of SIDS. Most have not been tested for effectiveness or safety. Do not use wedges or positioners to prop your baby or to keep him on his back.

9. Do not use home monitors to reduce the risk of SIDS. If you have questions about using monitors for other conditions talk to your health care provider.

10. Reduce the chance that flat spots will develop on your baby’s head. Place baby on his tummy when he is awake and someone is watching. Avoid too much time in car seats, carriers and bouncers. Learn more about tummy time.

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