Training moms to keep sleeping babies safe

October 15, 2015

Safe Sleep: The Columbus Dispatch highlights CelebrateOne Safe Sleep Ambassador trainings

By Misti Crane

The Columbus Disptach

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Nobody expected that a training session on infant safe sleep would end in tears and embraces yesterday.

This was a group of 17 women who work with families in the community through Action for Children, the United Way and the YMCA.

They met at Columbus Public Health for the first of a series of safe-sleep training sessions designed to spread the word that babies should sleep alone, on their backs and in a crib free of suffocation risks, including blankets and pillows.

Carneshia Edwards, a wellness coordinator for Action for Children, wiped tears as she talked about how her 3-month-old boy, DaMarcus, shares her bed, just like his 6-year-old brother Jaiden did before him.

“I just want him next to me. I do a lot of those things,” she said, gesturing to the screen where educator Nikki Jenkins had shared data about the community’s abysmal infant death rate and recommendations for how to prevent sleep-related deaths, including those that happen when babies doze off with moms and dads who don’t know the risks.

Edwards’ colleague Yalonda Foust, also a wellness coordinator, doesn’t have a baby at home, but her two children slept with her when they were infants.

“If I decide to have another kid, I will not have that child sleep in the bed with me like my previous kids,” she told the group.

The other women in the room were quick to assure Edwards that she wasn’t a bad mother, and to point out the things that they’d done over the years with their own little ones that they wouldn’t do today.

“I swaddled both of my children. I used a wedge,” said one woman, referring to potential smothering risks. “You are a good mom.”

The whole point of these sessions is to train “safe-sleep ambassadors” to provide the most current information so that moms, dads, grandmas and sitters can help preserve fragile young lives.

There will be four sessions in the next year that are open to anyone in the community, including one on Saturday at Columbus Public Health on Parsons Avenue.

Jenkins, the city’s infant safe-sleep education program manager, said she wants those who are trained to understand the statistics and the science behind safe-sleep recommendations and to tell as many people as they can tell, at family reunions, church on Sunday and whenever possible.

The stark facts: Ohio ranks 45th among states for its rate of infant deaths, and last for deaths among black babies as old as 1 year. Three to four babies die each week in Franklin County.

Prematurity, congenital problems and unsafe sleep are the top three causes of infant death.

Jenkins told the group that there’s plenty of misinformation to overcome, much of it from older generations who don’t know that doctors’ recommendations have changed.

Babies don’t stand a greater risk of choking on their backs, she said, showing the group anatomy diagrams of babies on their backs versus on their stomachs.

Facedown, babies run a greater risk of suffocating, including if they vomit. Babies also can breathe in more carbon dioxide on their bellies, and they can more easily overheat.

Many of the trainees were surprised to learn that sudden infant death is rare. Most of those deaths now are classified as sudden, unexplained infant death, and many of those are among babies who slept in an unsafe environment.

She told them about a dad, a physician, who awoke to a dead baby on his chest, and about a mom who fell asleep with her infant and awoke to discover that another child had climbed on the couch with them, fell asleep, and smothered the baby.

They talked also about swaddling infants, a practice that remains controversial.

Karen Gray-Medina, who directs child-fatality reviews and infant safe-sleep efforts for the city, said she was too afraid to swaddle her own children and worries that even with perfect teaching by a nurse at the hospital a tired mom or dad might not wrap the baby safely every time.

“I’ve watched a baby break the swaddle and start to roll,” Jenkins added.

To register for Saturday’s ambassador training from 9 to 11 a.m. at Columbus Public Health, RSVP to Julie at Future training sessions are scheduled for Jan. 23, April 23 and July 23.