Unprecedented Statewide Partnership to Prevent Sleep-Related Infant Deaths

May 19, 2016

ATLANTA – Every week three infants in Georgia die due to sleep-related causes, many of which are preventable. Today, First Lady Sandra Deal, the Georgia Children’s Cabinet, and the Georgia Department of Public Health launched a Safe to Sleep initiative in partnership with every birthing hospital in the state to prevent sleep-related infant deaths. The announcement was made at Wellstar Kennestone Hospital in Marietta, one of the first hospitals in Georgia to pledge support for the initiative.

The goal of Georgia’s Safe to Sleep initiative is to educate mothers, fathers, grandparents and caregivers about the importance of putting babies to sleep following the ABCs of Safe Sleep as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“The Safe to Sleep initiative has always been important to me because it saves hundreds of lives each year in Georgia. As a parent of four and grandparent of six, I understand how it feels when your children cry out in the night. It’s very tempting to want to place them in your bed, but the risks of bed-sharing are just too great,” said First Lady Sandra Deal. “We must educate parents about creating a safe sleeping environment for their babies. It is vital that babies sleep Alone, on their Backs, and in a Crib. By promoting these ABCs of safe sleep, we hope to spread awareness and provide the tools necessary to protect babies across the state." 

Beginning today, every mother and newborn in Georgia will be given an infant gown with “This Side Up” messaging to reinforce the fact that babies sleep safest on their backs. They will also receive a Safe to Sleep book reminding all caregivers about the importance of safe sleep. Travel bassinets will be given to Medicaid and uninsured families that can be used for babies up to 15 pounds or four to six months old. The bassinets can be used when a baby is sleeping away from their crib in another room in the home or when the baby is being cared for outside the home. 

“More than 60 percent of sleep-related infant deaths in 2014 occurred in an adult bed. That is nearly 100 preventable infant deaths,” said Brenda Fitzgerald, M.D., commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health. “Babies need a separate sleep space, not in an adult bed or in an arm chair or on a couch, and always on their backs.” 

Georgia has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the country. Sleep-related infant deaths occur suddenly, but parents and caregivers can reduce the risk of these tragic deaths by following the ABCs of safe sleep.

  • Alone – babies should sleep alone in their own sleep space, close to but separate from their caregiver.
  • Back – babies should be placed on their back to sleep. Every nap. Every sleep. Every time.
  • Crib – babies should sleep in a crib or bassinet with a firm, flat surface with no extra things such as crib bumpers, blankets or toys.

Through this first of its kind statewide collaboration, all 77 birthing hospitals in Georgia have pledged to model safe sleep behaviors throughout their facilities. This will ensure that parents of newborns, their families and caregivers are educated on and have the resources to create safe sleep environments for their babies before they leave the hospital.

“WellStar was one of the first health systems to sign the ‘Safe to Sleep’ pledge and we’re thrilled to be making a difference in the lives of our community,” said Avril Beckford, M.D., chief pediatric officer of WellStar Health System. “Our nurses and healthcare teams are dedicated to helping prevent sleep-related infant deaths through parent education and safe-sleep modeling in our hospital rooms. When doctors, nurses and all healthcare professionals work as a team and practice up-to-date, evidence-based medicine, it best serves the children in our communities.”

The Safe to Sleep initiative is a collaboration led by First Lady Sandra Deal, the Georgia Children’s Cabinet, Georgia Chapter American Academy of Pediatrics, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the Georgia Department of Public Health, the Georgia Hospital Association and the Georgia Obstetrical and Gynecological Society.