NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The sight of a baby sleeping peacefully is heartwarming to parents, grandparents and almost anyone else. Yet the lives of many babies are cut tragically short as the result of being put to sleep in an unsafe place or position. For Tennessee in 2010, the most recent year for which data are available, 131 infants died because they were not put to sleep as safely as they might have been. The Tennessee Department of Health is working to save these precious lives with a new effort to educate everyone who cares for young children about safe sleep practices for babies.
“Sadly, that’s about six full kindergarten classrooms that are forever empty due to these preventable infant deaths,” says Tennessee Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH. “The hard part is these risks don’t seem that risky. It has taken science to document and understand them, but the good news is they are very easy risks to minimize once you know how. That’s why we’re launching an aggressive awareness initiative to promote the ‘A-B-Cs of Safe Sleep.’”
Just like choosing to wear a seatbelt can protect you that one time you’re in a life-threatening accident, choosing to follow the A-B-Cs of Safe Sleep can protect your baby the one time he or she may be suffocated while sleeping.
The primary message for parents and others who care for infants is to “Remember the A-B-Cs of Safe Sleep.” There are three critical measures to follow when it’s time for an infant to sleep. “A” is for Alone: always let the baby sleep alone, never in a bed with another person where the baby could be smothered. “B” is for on the baby’s Back; an infant should be placed to sleep on his or her back, not on his or her side or stomach. “C” is for Crib: always put your child to sleep in a crib with only a firm mattress and tight-fitting sheet.
“Cribs should never have blankets, stuffed animals or toys in them,” says Michael Warren, MD, MPH, FAAP, TDH Family Health & Wellness director. “While it’s natural to want to surround your baby with cute objects, we have to remember young infants do not have strong neck muscles to raise their heads to prevent suffocation. A cuddly blanket or a plush toy, put in the crib with the best of intentions, can be deadly.”
To increase public awareness of safe sleeping practices for infants, the Tennessee Department of Health’s awareness campaign will feature public service announcements on radio and television; editorial messages in newspapers; bus wraps in Nashville, Memphis and Chattanooga; posters; flyers and other means of sharing this life-saving message. TDH has also created a dedicated website for the A-B-C program at safesleep.tn.gov.
“While we’re trying to reach as many current and soon-to-be parents as possible, we also want to reach out to grandparents, aunts and uncles, older siblings – anyone who might be responsible when it’s an infant’s bedtime,” Warren said. “It takes only a few seconds to put a baby into an empty crib on its back for safe sleeping, but those few seconds are so important. Just remember to follow your A-B-Cs and you might save a life.”
TDH is recruiting community partners to help spread the word and promote safe sleep for infants. Organizations interested in becoming safe sleep partners should contact Rachel Heitmann at Rachel.Heitmann@tn.gov.