Sleep Safety for Babies

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By providing free cribs to families who need them, Dr. Ethan Cutts is helping to halt the incidence of sleep-related infant deaths in Sacramento County. (Pictured: Juawana Allen and her baby)

Juawana Allen knows firsthand how devastating it can be for a family to lose a child. When she was only four, the infant brother she shared a room with died in his sleep at five months old.

So when she became pregnant with her third child, Allen was determined to do everything she could to keep the baby safe by following the ABCs of sleep safety: Babies should sleep Alone, on their Backs, and in a Crib — always.

There was just one problem: She couldn’t afford a crib.

Luckily for her, Allen gave birth to baby Alexandriah at Kaiser Permanente Roseville, home to an innovative sleep-safety program.

“The nurses asked me where I planned to have the baby sleep, and I said that because things were hard financially, she would have to sleep with me,” said Allen. “Then they told me they had a program to provide cribs to families who don’t have them, and I could take one home with me that day.”

A Pediatrician’s Mission

The Roseville sleep-safety program was spearheaded by pediatrician Ethan Cutts, MD. Since 2008, Dr. Cutts has worked with Safe Beginnings, a community group, to reduce the number of sleep-related deaths in children under age 5.

Ethan Cutts, MD

A baby dies while sleeping every other week in Sacramento County.

“That’s four times the number of children who die from drowning, making it the most the most common cause of death in children under 5,” said Dr. Cutts.

To learn why, Dr. Cutts and his colleagues at Safe Beginnings analyzed 20 years of county data.

“We found that every child who died in his or her sleep had one of four risk factors: either they were sleeping in a non-infant bed, co-sleeping with a parent or sibling, sleeping on their stomach or side, or there was no crib in the home,” he said.

“All of these deaths were preventable,” he added. “I realized that providing cribs to families who need them is a simple solution.”

A Simple Way to Save Lives

The program was launched in May 2015 with a grant from First Five Sacramento. Since then, Kaiser Permanente Roseville has given away an average of two cribs per month.

“We screen every family that gives birth by asking, ‘Where do you plan to have your baby sleep?’” said Marina Beck, RN, nurse manager of the Mother Baby Unit. “If we learn that they don’t have a safe sleep space, then we send them home with a crib. There are no minimum income requirements.”

Families are also shown a video about sleep-related deaths produced by the Child Abuse Prevention Center, and key messages about sleep safety are reinforced on wall signs and crib cards.

“Our nurses came up with that idea because they realized that it was important to educate not only parents but also family members who might care for the baby,” said Beck. “Each time they visit the baby in the hospital, they see the ABCs of sleep safety, and parents bring the crib card home as a memento.”

Inspired by the success of the Roseville effort, Kaiser Permanente South Sacramento will launch the sleep-safety program in October.

“Our zip code has the highest rate of sleep-related deaths in Sacramento County,” said Carol Head, RN, interim manager for Kaiser Permanente South Sacramento Perinatal Services. “We’re hopeful that by providing cribs and education to families that need them, we’ll be able to turn those statistics around and save lives.”

Discussion4 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Such a simple solution. It will be interesting to see the results after a year. Is there much resistance from cultural normsnorms of having the baby sleep with the parents?

  2. Avatar

    I absolutely love working for Kaiser Permanente for reasons just like these. It amazes me that people go the extra mile to not only save a life but to save the hearts of people from the pain of the loss of a child. Kudos to those who came up with this amazing idea and who made it possible.

  3. Avatar

    Having newborns many years ago it’s good to refresh on best practices like these ABC’s. I recall using bumpers as a safety issue, not allowing a child’s head to get stuck between the crib bars, etc., and using light throw blankets I would be interested in more details on avoiding these usages as they seem practical and appropriate as the infant gets older. I will share with family and friends and definitely save them for when I become and grandparent in the future.

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