CINCINNATI — Cradle Cincinnati has a message for everyone with little ones in their lives: The holidays can be dangerous for babies.
This is the time of year that Hamilton County tends to see a noticeable uptick in infants dying from sleep-related causes. That’s according to the Cradle Cincinnati initiative, which has been working since 2012 to reduce the county’s infant mortality rate.
“There’s no greater gift in life than having a newborn baby, and I think the holidays is a great reminder of what a gift babies are for us,” said Dr. Samuel Hanke, the physician of safe sleep for Cradle Cincinnati. “It’s also a great opportunity for us to share that gift with other family members and other friends. And for many, it means traveling to grandparents or aunts and uncles’ houses and changing the routine that our babies are being put to sleep in.”
Those changes put babies at much higher risk for suffocation or a sleep-related death, Hanke said, when they violate the ABCs of safe sleep – that babies sleep safest alone, on their backs and in a crib.
Hanke said there are three primary reasons why:
- New environments. If babies are visiting a place that doesn’t have a crib or portable crib, Hanke said, they could end up sleeping in the same bed as an older sibling or parent or on a couch or chair that isn’t safe.
- Outdated advice. Older relatives often give advice on how to get babies to sleep better that is now known to be unsafe. Never put babies to sleep on their tummies, Hanke said.
- Cold weather. Families often worry about their babies getting cold, and some put many layers of clothing or heavy blankets on top of them, he said.
“Where we see a lot of these deaths are when there’s more layers and heavy blankets that are put in the crib. Or when babies are being brought into parents’ beds to try to keep them warm,” Hanke said. “These babies are suffocating for reasons that they can’t pick up their head and turn for developmental reasons or there’s a big blanket or somebody else – an adult or a pet or a sibling – that’s preventing their ability to breathe.”
‘Let us learn together’
That’s why, as sweet as it might look to get a photo of baby sleeping on top of grandpa or big brother on the couch, it’s not at all safe, he said.
LaVenia Jones and Angelette Choate work to teach those lessons to Cincinnati parents.
Jones and Choate are both community health workers for TriHealth.
Both also have personal experience with the heartbreaking loss of infant mortality.
“In 2007, my sister lost her son due to sharing the bed. Not her, but the father of the baby rolled over on the baby,” Jones said. “Then my other sister, she lost a child as well.”
And nine years ago, Choate’s family lost three infants in the span of 12 months.
“That was a devastating year for us,” she said. “We became like first-name basis with Spring Grove Cemetery because we were there with one baby and one after the other.”
All of the babies died from sleep-related causes, they said.
As community health workers, both women work to educate Cincinnati moms and families about safe sleep.
Jones has four children, including a little boy who recently celebrated his first birthday. She remembers how exhausting it can be to care for an infant.
“Of course we don’t want to lose any more babies, but also just I know what it feels like, you know,” she said. “Sleep is a privilege when you just had a baby. It really is, and we just take it so much for granted.”
It’s important for moms to realize that it’s OK to need rest and that it doesn’t make them bad parents, Choate said.
“And it’s not just the mother’s responsibility to learn safe sleep. Let us learn together,” she said. “Because they did say it takes a village. So let’s be a village to learn safe sleep to keep our children alive.”
Families who can’t afford a crib or portable crib for their babies can call United Way of Greater Cincinnati’s 211 number to request assistance. More information about the ABCs of safe sleep is available online at Cradle Cincinnati’s homepage.
Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. To reach Lucy, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.