Health Department Articles

Simple is Safe When it Comes to Baby's Sleep

Ask mothers-to-be about the fun parts of pregnancy and you will likely not hear stories of their swollen ankles or aching backs.  However, many mothers do enjoy feeling their babies move, and ....  preparing the nursery for their little bundle of joy.  So many parents believe that pricier and fancier cribs and bedding have to be the best, just because they cost more.  However, research has proven that simple, basic beds are safest.

Health Educators with the Montgomery County Health Department have been educating expecting and newly delivered mothers about safe sleep and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome prevention since May 2016.  To date, more than 77 participants in the county have learned the "ABCs for Better Sleep".  Babies should always sleepAlone, on their Back, and in a Crib.

Statistics show that babies are most at risk for SIDS from birth to age six months.  Babies who are born too early or too small are at elevated risk, as are minority babies, and babies of the male gender.  To great extent, parents cannot control or choose the race or gender of their babies.  However, parents can control some factors that contribute to the risk of pre-term delivery, such as smoking or tobacco use, and stress.

Once the baby arrives, it is absolutely imperative for babies to sleep on their backs at all times- from a ten minute nap to an 8 hour good night sleep.  When babies sleep on their tummies, they are at risk for having their noses and/or mouths covered, causing suffocation and death.  Blankets, stuffed animals, bumper cribs, and inappropriate sleep clothing, other children, and even pets are dangerous to children.  When infants are placed on soft surfaces such as couches, rocking chairs or recliners, they can get their little faces pressed into the padding of the furniture and suffocate, even when parents are sometimes sitting close by.

Babies should always sleep in a crib or a pack-n-play, a safe sleep space of their own, using a firm mattress and a tightly fitting sheet.  Although the American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends that babies sleep in the same room with their parents for the first year of life, the same room does NOT mean the same bed.  In addition to the risk of a parent rolling over on a baby and suffocating him, adult beds are almost always covered in sheets, blankets, bedspreads, and pillows, all of which can cover the baby's face and cause him or her to stop breathing.

Ensuring that babies have a safe sleep space is one of the health priorities identified by the community during the Community Health Assessment.  Rhonda Peters and Kimberly Burger have spearheaded the safe sleep project, and reminds participants during every class that simple cribs are best.  Cribs that are more than 10 years old should not be used.  Cribs with decorative, cut-out designs pose strangulation risks and should be avoided.  If a crib has slats that are more than 2.5 inches apart, a baby has enough space to get their head pushed between the slats, but often they do not have enough muscle strength to get their removed from that same space, and end up strangling.  Cribs with drop-down sides have all been recalled and are no longer manufactured for safety reasons.

Breastfeeding a baby has so many health benefits for moms and babies, including a reduction in risk of SIDS.  Additional protective factors include not smoking around the baby, spacing pregnancies adequately, and making sure that baby goes to all doctor's appointments and receives all recommended vaccinations.

Peters and Burger have facilitated the trainings since the program's inception.  "One simple change, one simple choice can literally be the difference between life and death", stated Peters.

The Health Department received money from the state of North Carolina to implement programs to reduce infant mortality beginning in 2016.  The Baby's Easy Safe Sleep Training is an evidenced-based program that is coupled with the distribution of a safe sleep space to each participant at the end of the class.  Currently, the class is only available to mothers who are current patients or participants in Health Department clinics and programs.  As more funds become available, administrators hope to expand it to the entire community.

According to NC Healthy Start Foundation, North Carolina's infant mortality rate has remained relatively consistent over the past 5 years (the lowest in the state's history).  7.3 babies died in North Carolina in 2015 for every 1,000 born alive.  This is dramatic 42 percent reduction since 1988 when North Carolina had the highest infant mortality rate in the nation.  However, North Carolina continues to exceed the national average.  Additionally, the North Carolina State Center for Health Statistics reports that at the same time North Carolina has seen this reduction, Montgomery County has experienced just the opposite, with increases in the infant mortality rate.  From 2011-2015, the total North Carolina infant mortality rate was only 7.2, while Montgomery's rate was considerably higher at 12.2.

Infant mortality is not limited to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.  Conditions originating in the perinatal period, birth defects, accidents, and illness are also factors impacting the rate.  Inadequate pregnancy smoke and exposure to tobacco increase the risk.  For more information about safe sleep, breastfeeding, family planning or smoking cessation, please contact the Montgomery County Health Department by calling (910) 572-1393.