Study examines how Franklin County babies die

November 9, 2015

Safe Sleep: The Columbus Dispatch highlights the new CelebrateOne infant safe sleep campaign

By Misti Crane

The Columbus Dispatch

Monday, November 9, 2015

Almost every Franklin County baby who dies while sleeping shares a bed with other people or pets, sleeps on his or her stomach or side or in a place other than a crib, bassinet or Pack-N-Play free of loose blankets, toys and other suffocation risks.

Of 67 sleep-related deaths from 2012 through 2014, 89 percent of the babies were not alone, on their backs or in a crib. Almost all the remaining babies were exposed to other risks such as second-hand smoke or items in their cribs, according to new data from Columbus Public Health.

The analysis comes as the city prepares to start a new multimedia campaign that leaders hope will make people stop, think and remember what is best for baby at bedtime.

The TV spot, which will air over the next couple of months, starts with the camera tight on a polka dot baby sheet with a fuzzy white stuffed bunny on it. As the announcer explains the importance of safe sleep, the shot widens to reveal that the baby’s empty bed sits within a grave.

“They’re teaching our community about how to lay their babies. It shows if you don’t, this is the end result. This is not a thing that you should sugar-coat,” said Lori Mosley, who lost her 20-day-old granddaughter Dallas Hunt in July and lost her own daughter, Sherron Harrington in 1993 when she was a month old.

“I don’t want another family — another grandmother like me — to go through this. I’ve held this burden for a long time,” said Mosley, who has been helping the city’s CelebrateOne effort to prevent infant deaths.

CelebrateOne’s new campaign cost about $49,000 to develop and produce and an additional $150,000 to distribute. Money awarded by the Franklin County Commissioners is paying for the effort.

It follows research into what seems to work in other cities, including Milwaukee and Baltimore, and after meeting with focus groups of more than 20 moms, dads and others in Columbus, said Columbus Public Health spokesman Jose Rodriguez.

Liane Egle, who directs CelebrateOne, said the message they heard was clear: Don’t soften the harsh reality.

At the same time, social-science research supports the idea that a striking advertisement is much more likely to change behavior, she said. “The idea is that people will have an emotional reaction to it.”

Egle said she doesn’t want anyone who sees a picture of a baby sleeping in a crib full of stuffed animals to say the images is adorable. “We want them to say, ‘Get those toys out of the crib!’ ”

Mosley, 41 and a resident of Canal Winchester, said she welcomes the broad community conversation and changes in policy that aim to save babies.

“In my community, they don’t talk a lot about it until it happens. This is a campaign that needs to be out there. Babies are dying,” she said, adding that one of her daughter’s friends lost an infant six months before Dallas died.

Recommendations for safe sleep were different when Sherron died, she said. The baby wasn’t in a crib and was placed on her side. Dallas was by herself, on her back and in a bassinette, Mosley said.

The new sleep-related death report from the city examined 67 deaths, which accounted for nearly 15 percent of all deaths among babies younger than 1 during that three-year span.

The researchers found that 79 percent of the babies were not in cribs, bassinets or Pack-N-Plays. Recommendations call for a firm sleep surface with a fitted sheet. There should be no covers or pillows.

Sixty-seven percent of the babies shared a bed, couch, chair or other sleep space with another person or a pet. And 47 percent were slept on their side or stomach, which can increase the risk of choking or suffocating.

Deaths related to unsafe sleep were more common among black babies and for those urban-core areas of the city considered priority neighborhoods for infant-mortality work.

To read the full report, go to www.columbus.gov/MCHReports. For more information on community programs to prevent infant deaths, go to www.CelebrateOne.info/Babies.

@MistiCrane