Putting Georgia’s Babies to Sleep Safely

September 11, 2013

After 20 years as a police officer, Guy Wolfe had seen his share of tragic situations, including those involving the death of a child. But he never envisioned that one of those tragedies would be his own.

On March 19, 2012, Wolfe’s 3-month-old daughter Mia died suddenly in her sleep. At a news conference at the State Capitol on Monday, Wolfe said the only explanation for her death was that there was no explanation.

“SIDS [Sudden Infant Death Syndrome] by its very nature is unexplained. The only warning sign is death,” he said.

Like Mia, scores of Georgia infants die each year from causes that cannot be determined, what doctors and medical examiners classify as SIDS. But hundreds of other deaths are the result of suffocation caused by sleep-related accidents, nearly all of which can be prevented.

Experts say many parents simply don’t know the healthiest, safest ways to put their babies to sleep: in their own space – such as a crib, bassinet or play yard – on their backs and without any pillows, blankets, pads, stuffed animals or other items in the crib. Babies need a firm sleep surface, and they shouldn’t ever sleep in an adult bed, on a couch or chair, whether alone or with someone else. Taking these steps greatly reduces the risk that children will suffocate during their sleep. The key is making sure all parents know how to protect their babies.

“You don’t go home from the hospital knowing this kind of information,” Wolfe said.

After his daughter’s death, Wolfe began working to spread the word. He and his wife Lena started the Baby Butterfly Foundation, an organization that aims to educate parents on preventing SIDS and sleep-related deaths and also reaches out to parents who have suffered these terrible losses.

On Monday, Wolfe joined Georgia first lady Sandra Deal, Georgia Board of Public Health Chair Kathryn Cheek, M.D., and members of the Georgia Children’s Cabinet at the State Capitol to stress this lifesaving information. Gov. Nathan Deal has officially proclaimed September as Safe Sleep Month in Georgia, and child advocates across the state are promoting the safest ways for babies to sleep.

Advocates also hope to address common myths about the practice. For example, many parents and caregivers fear that putting babies on their backs to sleep will put them at risk of choking if they spit up. But healthy babies naturally swallow or cough up fluids, and they might even be able to clear liquids better when on their backs.

Cheek noted that when the practice was first publicized in 1994 as part of the federal “Back to Sleep” campaign, the number of children’s deaths classified as SIDS dropped by 50 percent. The campaign was recently relaunched as the “Safe to Sleep” campaign.

“We’re always looking for ways to reduce risks for our children,” Cheek said. “Our goal is to make sure parents understand they can prevent these tragedies.”

The recommendations apply until a child reaches age 1. There are also other ways to lower the risk of infant sleep-related deaths of all causes, including:

·         Keeping babies from getting overheated during sleep

·         Not smoking, drinking alcohol or taking drugs during pregnancy

·         Not allowing anyone to smoke around babies

·         Breastfeeding

·         Offering a pacifier at bedtime once breastfeeding has been established

·         Ensuring babies get regular health check-ups and all immunizations on time

Although babies should sleep on their backs every night and for every nap, doctors also stress the importance of tummy time when babies are awake and supervised. Letting babies play and explore on their stomachs can help them develop their neck, shoulder and arm muscles, and it can also prevent flat spots on the head that can develop when babies spend too much time on their backs.

The first lady said Georgia’s first priority is protecting and enriching the lives of the state’s children. That means empowering their parents and caregivers with the information they need to keep them safe.

 “I think of all the mistakes I made with my own children, and I realized that we just got lucky,” she said. “If we can prevent these deaths, we should do anything it takes to protect our babies.”

For more information on the Georgia Children’s Cabinet’s Safe Sleep campaign, visit the Governor’s Office of Children and Families website.

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