Every year, for more than 50 years, Cuyahoga County loses too many babies to preventable, sleep-related deaths. Sounds sad in general. But, when you put it into perspective, the numbers are equivalent to the size of a kindergarten classroom! Just imagine all the preparation that’s put into welcoming a new class of kindergarteners – people are waiting to be their teachers, people are waiting to see them learn and grow, people are awaiting their friendship and want to play and laugh. The classroom has been set up for these future scholars to be anything they want to be and then all of a sudden… They’re gone. The whole entire class. And the cause, more than likely, could have been prevented. Now it’s easier to see the effects a child’s death has on people within arm’s length and even the domino effect something like losing an entire kindergarten classroom could have on a community in general. The issue of infant mortality is no different. That’s why it is important to remember these deaths are preventable and as simple as learning your ABCDs.
In 2016, First Year Cleveland – a community organization developed to combat the astounding infant mortality numbers in and around Cleveland – was formed. FYC found the areas in which infants are affected the most are extreme prematurity or accidental suffocation. As a result, the Safe Sleep Action Team was put in place as one of 11 committees under the FYC umbrella to be proactive in generating awareness about, and taking preventative measure to help end, infant mortality.
Rita Andolsen serves as director of communications and community engagement at MetroHealth Medical Center. She was hand selected by FYC executive director Bernie Kerrigan to be placed at the helm of the Safe Sleep Action Team. Andolsen accepted. Assisted by project manager Kate Newsome, together the two have been crowning safe sleep heroes ever since.
“Our message is very simple,” Andolsen said. “It’s the ABCDs – Make sure baby is Alone, on their Back, in a Crib and Don’t smoke.” Sounds simple enough. So why are we losing so many babies in Cleveland? “Its not just moms in Cuyahoga County; it happens everywhere,” Newsome said. “We’re more prone to listen to our moms and grandmas than we are our pediatrician. They raised us and trained us to sleep on our stomachs, so we tend to think that’s best. Even though that may be what was thought to be best once upon a time, better information has become available.”
So when we know better, we have to do better. That’s why the Safe Sleep Action Team is doing better with getting this information out. They’ve developed an online 10-minute quiz to test your knowledge on how much you think you know about safe sleep practices. Things like this don’t have to be limited to parents only. Andolsen and Newsome encourage the information to be shared with babysitters, neighbors, family, and even at baby showers. In addition they’ve worked to put together a Safe Sleep Training Module that Andolsen says is being pushed out through a workforce campaign using various HR platforms to help distribute the information.
Old habits are hard to break. “Everybody loves to cuddle with their baby,” Newsome said. “But the reality is, it’s just not safe. Our job as parents is to keep them safe.”
It all begins with a conversation. The Safe Sleep Heroes Toolkit for Families and Communities is downloadable via www.firstyearcleveland.org
and walks users step-by-step through safe sleep practices for babies, does some myth-busting and gives tips on how to create the safest sleep environments.