Cook Children's Led Coalition Promotes Safe Sleep through Community Outreach
October is SIDS Awareness Month, a time to highlight the work of the Safe Baby Sleep Council in our region.
By Jean Yaeger
The Safe Baby Sleep Council, led by Cook Children’s, takes a partnership approach to educating families and providing resources across much of North Texas.
In various locations from hospitals to health fairs to caregiver classes – even at Mayfest – the coalition’s 41 member organizations deliver the same reliable message. When parents of newborns request a birth certificate in Tarrant County, for instance, they receive a brochure about safe sleep, courtesy of the council.
“Our hope is that families hear why safe sleep is important at their birthing hospital, and then when they receive their birth certificate, they are hearing the same message again,” said Samantha St. John, program coordinator for safe sleep at the Cook Children’s Center for Community Health (C4CH). “Consistency is key.”
Every year in the United States, about 3,500 babies die unexpectedly during sleep. Sometimes the cause can be determined, such as accidental suffocation or strangulation. But if the baby had no apparent medical problems, and their sleep space contained nothing potentially hazardous, the death is considered Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). SIDS accounts for about one-third of all sleep deaths in infants younger than 1 year old.
October is SIDS Awareness Month, a time to highlight the work of the Safe Baby Sleep Council in our region. St. John said council members are passionate about helping families create the safest sleep environment possible to reduce the chance of SIDS.
They want parents to know the safest way for babies to sleep is on their back, on a firm surface with a tight fitted sheet in a crib or bassinet or pack ‘n play, and with no pillows or blankets or toys. Co-sleeping with parents or siblings – in an adult bed, couch or recliner, for example -- isn’t safe for infants.
“There is a misconception that SIDS is a diagnosis, but you can't take your baby to the physician to be tested for SIDS. SIDS is simply the lack of a reason the infant should have passed away,” she said.
According to the National Institutes of Health, the risk for SIDS increases if three factors intersect: first, the infant has a condition that affects their heartrate or breathing; second, if they’re undergoing a spurt of rapid growth or development; third, if something external creates stress, such as exposure to secondhand smoke or being placed to sleep on their stomachs.
Spreading the Word
Safe Sleep is one of five injury prevention campaigns at C4CH along with gun safety, poison control, drowning prevention and car seats. The Initiative started in 2014 within Cook Children's Medical Center and then branched out to area hospitals. It grew over the years to include Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), Tarrant County Public Health and other organizations that serve families.
St. John coordinates the coalition partners and supplies the materials they hand out at their offices and community events. Sometimes bundled together, the main resources are:
- Sleep sacks
- Educational slim cards in English and Spanish
- “Sleep Baby Safe and Snug” children’s books, purchased through Charlie's Kids foundation and available in English and Spanish
Between October 2022 and mid-September 2023, the council distributed 3,540 sleep sacks and 28,404 books and brochures, funded by Cook Children’s.
“We're able to provide all the education and resources to our partners so they do not have to worry about budgeting for these materials or recreating resources that are already available,” St. John said.
The children’s book is popular because it is written in a rhythmic pattern that babies enjoy. An added bonus -- reading promotes bonding.
“Oftentimes we hear that parents share a bed because they want to bond with their baby. But bonding really happens much more when we're awake,” St. John said. “A great interaction with our babies is to read books.”
When caregivers learn the facts, they’re motivated to tell others. Jennifer Gadnai, MBA, BSN, RN serves as the council’s co-chair. She said the word is getting out through Safe Baby Sleep courses and other venues. And in a partnership with the City of Fort Worth, the safe sleep message gets additional exposure as a public service announcement on the banners of city buses and benches.
“This is getting the life-saving education to the people who need it the most,” Gadnai said.
Gadnai’s passion for safe sleep stems from her work in the Emergency Department (ED) at Cook Children’s. “Over my 17 years here I have seen too many sleep-related deaths in our ED,” she said. “It’s a horrible event and devastating for all involved.”
Out in the Community
Coalition members interact with families at community events, where information tables and pack ‘n play displays draw the attention of people passing by. Table attendants will ask: What’s unsafe in the pack ‘n play demonstration?
“Parents will point out the obvious like the blankets, but they'll often miss things like the wedge pillow or the hat on the doll's head or that there's a pacifier tethered to the doll's clothing,” St. John said. It’s an opportunity, then, to teach some the lesser-known points of safe sleep, like the importance of a tight fitted sheet.
Another type of community outreach occurs in visits to area high schools. Daniel Guzman, M.D., Cook Children’s emergency medicine physician and medical director of C4CH, speaks to home economics classes about various injury prevention topics. In those conversations, students frequently tell Dr. Guzman that infant brothers and sisters sleep on their tummies or under a blanket. He wants teens to know they can and should make a difference at home.
“If they see their sibling on their tummy, turn them over and place them on their backs. It's as easy as that. That might save a life right there,” Dr. Guzman said. “Or remove any stuffed animals or blankets from the crib.”
Hearing the facts from a trusted source helps the safe sleep message resonate. “It's always about if you can change one life,” Dr. Guzman said. “If it's one person who responds, that change goes a long way. It saves lives.”
To learn how your organization can partner with the Safe Baby Sleep Council, please email email@example.com .
Cook Children's Center for Community Health is home to the Children's Health Assessment and Planning Survey, community health outreach and community health research. The goal is to create aligned collaborations that improve the health of children across North Texas. Find out more about our injury prevention programs and coalitions here.