Five years ago, members of the Juvenile Welfare Board of Pinellas County set out to reduce the largest cause of preventable baby deaths in Florida: suffocation due to unsafe sleep.
Using data from the medical examiner’s office, the board found that more than 100 babies died from sleep-related suffocation over a decade in Pinellas — enough children to fill six kindergarten classrooms.
“These were all healthy babies and death was otherwise preventable,” said April Putzulu, a senior manager with the board. “If we could get our arms around this one cause of death, we could keep children healthy and alive.”
That was the thinking behind the board’s 2018 launch of the Sleep Baby Safely campaign, which works to educate parents on safe sleeping practices for their babies.
Since its inception, Putzulu said that the number of sleep-related suffocation deaths in the county has been cut in half.
With newly secured funding from the state, the program is now set to expand to eight other counties around Florida, including Hillsborough County. It’s the first time state money has been designated in the health department’s budget to prevent child deaths. Broward, Duval, Miami-Dade, Orange, Palm Beach, and Polk are the other areas where it’s expanding.
Deaths that were the result of unsafe sleep affected families across a wide range of income, races and ethnicities, Putzulu said.
The Sleep Baby Safely campaign provides frequent reminders about safe sleeping practices, beginning at the hospital and continuing through parent outreach programs.
The program is data driven and materials are made available to parents in both English and Spanish, Putzulu said.
“We know more today than we used to,” said Putzulu. “When you know a cause of death, you can do things to prevent it. We’re grateful this work is expanding.”
Three tips for keeping your baby safe while sleeping:
1) Follow the Safe Sleep ABCs - which stand for Alone, Back, Crib - by putting your baby to sleep alone, on their back and in an empty crib, bassinet or Pack n’ Play.
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2) Share a room, not a bed. Soft surfaces like adult beds, couches and air mattresses pose greater suffocation risk. Two-thirds of infant suffocation deaths occur when parents share a bed with their baby.
3) Stay alert when feeding your baby by setting alarms and making sure the baby is returned to the crib.
For more information, visit https://www.sleepbabysafely.com/