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Pinellas launches campaign to save babies

In the last decade, almost 100 infants suffocated in the county -- many in their parents’ beds
Michelle Schaefer of the Healthy Start Coalition demonstrates how an infant should sleep during a press conference on Monday.
Michelle Schaefer of the Healthy Start Coalition demonstrates how an infant should sleep during a press conference on Monday. [ JOHN PENDYGRAFT | Times ]
Published Sep. 23, 2019

The portable crib was in the front of the conference room -- a symbol of salvation. “The baby needs to sleep alone, on their back, in their own crib,” said Michelle Schaefer, placing a baby doll in the playpen. “Alone means no pillows, no blankets, no toys or stuffed animals, no people. You can room share, but not bed share.”

Schaefer, who works for the Healthy Start Coalition of Pinellas, helped kick off a campaign called “Sleep Baby Safely” on Monday, partnering with the Juvenile Welfare Board and St. Petersburg’s police and fire departments. The effort is an attempt to combat the leading cause of infant death: suffocation.

“Every month a healthy baby dies in our county,” said rescue chief Ian Womack. “First responders like us encounter this way too often.” In the last decade, he said, almost 100 babies have died -- many in their parents’ beds. “Picture six empty kindergarten classrooms, lost forever,” he said. “And 100 percent of these deaths could have been prevented.”

Firefighters and police officers now carry pamphlets about how to put babies to bed safely. Nurses give new mothers bags with free onesies and sleep sacks. And fire stations across the city are collecting Pack n’ Play portable cribs to give away, so that every child will have somewhere safe to sleep.

“We can eliminate these needless deaths,” Womack said. “Our goal is to get babies to their first birthdays.”

If you want to donate a new Graco Pack N’ Play portable crib, experts recommend the “On the go playard with bassinet” model. They can be dropped off at the St. Petersburg Fire and Rescue Station at 455 8th Street S or at any fire station in the area. For more information, call 727-507-6330, or go to: SleepBabySafely.com.