Four years ago, I reported on something few people talk about in our community – the number of infants who die in unsafe sleep environments.
I learned about the issue when police officers and firefighters told me about finding dead babies who had been sleeping with parents or siblings on beds and couches. Some of the babies got tangled in sheets or blankets in cribs or smothered by excessive pillows.
At the time, only the Rochester Police Department kept statistics on the number of infant deaths related to unsafe sleep. The Medical Examiner classified the deaths as “undetermined,” also known as SIDS. But the RPD’s data was startling. The department recorded at least several deaths a year related to unsafe sleep.
After my report in 2007, I heard from many angry mothers who advocated for bed-sharing and said the parents of children who died must have been doing it wrong. Others were very suspicious of the statistics. But the fact remained there were virtually no safe sleep messages getting out to the public on either side of the issue. This contrasted sharply with public service campaigns in Philadelphia and Milwaukee.
We now know there were 41 unsafe-sleep related infant deaths from 2007-2010.
I have been truly astounded that a public health issue of this magnitude stayed in the shadows. If 10 babies were dying a year in one county from tainted formula or defective cribs, there would be a dire sense of emergency.
In the last few years, the Monroe County Child Fatality Review team and the Baby Safe Sleep Coalition have done a lot of work in defining the problem and working to educate families.
Today, they announced a plan to distribute safe sleep brochures with birth certificates for the 11,000 babies expected to be born in Monroe County this year. At a press conference, the organizers said they were relying on private dollars and Xerox’s printing donation. It had taken them months, if not years, to get to this point. The county executive noted the effort won’t cost taxpayers money.
Let’s hope this makes a difference. Something tells me it’s a start.