Campaign To Cut Risk Of Sleep-Related Infant Deaths

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The Allegheny County Health Department and Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC are partnering on a new effort to reduce sleep-related infant deaths. It is part of a Health Department campaign to ensure new moms and everyone else who cares for newborns are taught safe-sleep practices that reduce the risk of sleep-related infant deaths.

The campaign was launched because 97 percent of Allegheny County's 68 sudden unexpected infant deaths (SUIDs) between 2001 and 2006 involved babies who were discovered in an unacceptable sleep environment. Two-thirds of the babies were black and one-third white.

Examination of these deaths by the Health Department's Child Death Review Team revealed that a significantly higher risk of SUID also existed among premature and low birth weight infants as well as mothers who were younger, single, smoked, did not breastfeed, started prenatal care after the first trimester and did not complete high school.

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The Health Department shared the data and met with physicians, nurses, breastfeeding experts and others to come up with safe-sleep guidelines that all health care professionals would agree to use in educating parents and other caregivers. The guidelines promote the ideal sleep environment for infants — on their back, in a crib with nothing but the baby and in a home where there is no smoking — and also encourage breastfeeding.

"Since parents often hearing conflicting information on child care issues, our message must be clear, consistent, accurate and repetitive so safe-sleep practices become the norm in every household with a newborn," said County Health Director Dr. Bruce W. Dixon.

To encourage a unified effort in safe-sleep education, the Health Department is providing its guidelines to local maternity hospitals, Children's Hospital, maternal and child health home visiting agencies and nearly 1,000 health care professionals who work with new moms and infants.

"To ensure safe-sleep practices are promoted and followed in every household with an infant in the African-American community, we formed the Infant Safe Sleep Church Outreach Committee to involve African-American clergy in this effort," said Dr. Jerome Gloster, the Health Department's maternal and child health consultant.

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