Originally published on Oct. 15, 2012
October is National Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) Awareness Month and SIDS is the leading cause of death among infants. From 2002 to 2006 in Georgia, SIDS was the third leading cause of death with 621 infant deaths.
To reduce SIDS and other sleep-related deaths, Georgia's public health message to parents and caregivers is that the baby always sleeps alone, always on his back, and always in his crib. That was the message delivered last week by First Lady Sandra Deal, the Georgia Children's Cabinet, the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) and the Georgia Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics as they announced a joint public health education campaign targeting parents and caregivers.
New public health signage is now visible in government buildings in Georgia reminding parents and caregivers of the safest way to put a baby to sleep for naps or at night. Georgia officials are focusing on reducing the risks of SIDS and other sleep-related causes of infant death to decrease overall infant mortality rates.
The national Safe to Sleep campaign, launched by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) and formerly known as Back to Sleep, is promoting three key messages to mothers and caregivers to reduce the likelihood of SIDS or Sudden Unexpected Infant Death (SUID): babies sleep safest on their backs, every sleep time counts, and sleep surface matters.
DPH employees are familiar with the risk factors for SIDS and are breastfeeding, practicing safe sleep for their babies, not smoking during pregnancy or after the birth, giving baby tummy time when awake and someone is watching and having regular checkups and childhood immunizations.
Katherine Kahn, MPH, epidemiologist and mother of three, remembers the former Back to Sleep campaign which was well publicized when she gave birth to her first baby in 2003. Her youngest is 16 months.
"So I am familiar with the importance of putting my baby on her back to avoid SIDS," said Kahn. "With my third child, we had our baby sleep in our room for the first couple months, but she had her own cradle to sleep in. She now sleeps in her own room in a crib that has no quilts, comforters, stuffed animals or anything else that might be unsafe. These steps were pretty effortless."
Chinelo Ogbuanu, M.D., MPH, Ph.D., senior epidemiologist and expectant mother, exclusively breast fed her two babies. She kept them in their own cribs and when they cried at night, she got up to nurse them in their rooms and then put them back to sleep on their backs.
Program associate and new mom Nadia Hurst received motherhood tips from her doula, grandmother, public health co-workers and friends to practice safe sleep, breastfeeding, and childhood immunizations for her 14-month-old son.
"My baby slept in a safety-approved crib with no blankets or toys. I always put him on his back for naps or nighttime regardless of what the old folks told me about putting babies on their tummies," recalled Hurst. "When my baby finally got his own room, I started sleeping in the room with him in the chair to be closer to him."
Kahn empathizes with new moms who learn as the baby grows how to follow all the public health practices for safe sleep during breastfeeding and bonding time.
"The biggest challenge for all moms, especially those with newborns, is the lack of sleep," shared Kahn. "Babies wake up frequently needing to eat, especially those who are breastfeeding. A newborn may nurse every one to two hours."
Kristal Thompson-Black, quality improvement consultant with DPH's Office of Performance Improvement, is exclusively breastfeeding her 4-month-old son. When she gave birth to her first son in 2010, she always worried when he slept. She placed him on his back to sleep in his crib to alleviate her nervousness.
"This year, when I had my second son it was second nature and I automatically put him on his back," Thompson-Black said with confidence.
Breasting feeding coordinator Marcia Hunter, BSN, RN, IBCLC, said that breastfeeding moms at 2 Peachtree receive support and information. The DPH lactation station is upgraded with two private pumping areas, hospital-grade breast pumps, sink, microwave and refrigerator. Moms who use the room receive helpful hints on combining work and breastfeeding.
Thompson-Black recalled that in 2010 she almost moved to the Twin Towers for a new job assignment. She did not leave because of DPH's lactation station.
"Breastfeeding is a commitment and in many ways it can be challenging but the reward is a healthy, loving child," she said. "My 2-year-old is rarely sick and I credit breastfeeding."