By Dena Pepple, R.N. for Community Choice Pediatrics
I love my job! Every day I get to come to work and help take care of newborn babies. I talk to parents during their pregnancies and follow them for two months after their babies are born. I welcome these babies and their families to our practice, answering their questions and concerns. Some days, I make 40-50 of these phone calls, laughing with, comforting, educating, and empathizing with our new parents. One call that I rarely make (thank heavens) is a condolence call to parents of babies who have died of Sudden Unexplained Infant Death (SUID). These calls are difficult… to say the least.
I am not writing this to chastise these parents or any parents who have lost a child. Whether the cause is an accident or illness, preventable or not, I know firsthand that their grief is punishment enough. I am writing this to offer empathy and support to these parents and remind everyone how important the SAFE TO SLEEP CAMPAIGN is. My hope is to raise awareness so we can decrease and eventually eliminate these deaths altogether.
Safe to Sleep Campaigns
In the early 1990’s, research began showing that a baby sleeping on his/her back, alone, in a firm, flat, empty crib is the safest place for a baby to sleep. The BACK TO SLEEP/SAFE TO SLEEP CAMPAIGNS have kept us up-to-date on safe sleeping for our babies. The incidence of SUIDS (this includes SIDS, and sleep accidents) has decreased almost 50% since the early 1990s in large part due to these guidelines. The bad news is that almost 45% of that decrease happened in that decade. Since 1999, we have only seen about a 7% drop in death events.
Per HealthyChildren.org, more than 3,500 babies still die in the United States each year due to SUID.
Several parent surveys give a glimpse into why this happens. In one survey, 78% of moms of infants said they fear SIDS, yet 28% of these parents put their baby to sleep on their stomach, and 65% shared a bed with their baby. In another study, 96% of the parents had been told a baby should sleep alone, on his/her back in a crib, yet only 66% agreed with that recommendation. There are a variety of reasons for this: tired or over-exerted parents, traditions (grandma put her babies to sleep on their tummies), inadequate education, or other fears. Regardless, we MUST do a better job with education and implementation of SAFE TO SLEEP!
Safe to Sleep Guidelines
These SAFE SLEEP GUIDELINES per the American Academy for Pediatrics should ideally be addressed at every newborn/infant well visit:
- ALWAYS PLACE BABY ON HIS/HER BACK FOR ALL SLEEP TIMES
- USE A FIRM, FLAT SLEEP SURFACE
- KEEP SOFT OR LOOSE OBJECTS/BEDDING OUT OF BABY’S SLEEP AREA
- SHARE A BEDROOM WITH THE BABY, NOT A BED (ABOUT 130 BABIES DIE EACH YEAR FROM BED SHARING)
Other recommendations that may reduce the incidence of SUID include using a pacifier, fan in the room, breast-feeding the baby, avoiding tobacco smoking during and after pregnancy, and not using commercial products that claim to reduce SUIDs but are inconsistent with the safe sleep guidelines above.
Besides ongoing education of our parents, grandparents, childcare providers, etc., there is one more vital thing we can do. We can support the new parents.
Supporting New Parents
Whether it is your relative, neighbor or friend, offer your time to watch the baby, make a meal, run an errand, or mow the lawn. This may give mom or dad the extra nap they need to make it through another fussy night.
I talk to new parents daily and tell them it is okay not to be the “hostess with the mostess.” (I do actually say those words!) If baby is asleep, it is okay to tell your visitor this is not a good time for a visit so parents can get a nap too. If baby is awake, I tell parents to hand the visitor the baby and go take a nap. Baby is number one, but helping mom and dad is huge in taking care of number one!
Lastly, we must show compassion to parents who have lost babies due to SUIDs.
Unfortunately these deaths happens across all walks of life, from the pediatric cardiologist who started CHARLIE’S KIDS FOUNDATION and tells his story globally after he fell asleep on the couch trying to soothe his newborn back to sleep, to the young parent who was afraid their baby would choke if he was laid flat on his back. Rather than judge these grieving parents, we need to support them during their grief, and continue our education efforts. Every sleep time counts!
So, do I still love my job? Of course, I do! I am here for all our new parents, whether in sorrow or joy, need or support. However, I much prefer the call that starts out, “Hi, this is Dena, just checking on that beautiful baby.” I want to eliminate the phone calls that start out, “This is Dena, and I am so sorry………!”
Working together we can do just that!