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Healthy Babies in the Mississippi Delta

Posted on: November 14, 2017

The statistics are sobering:

  • Mississippi’s infant mortality rate remains high at a rate of 9.4 per 1,000 live births, with a rise in unexplained and sleep-related deaths including Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and accidental suffocations associated with unsafe sleep environments.
  • The rate of SIDS in Mississippi is 27 percent higher among non-white residents.

Losing a baby is every parent’s nightmare. To lay your child down to sleep and wake up the next morning to find the infant not breathing is a lifetime of heartache. Delta Health Alliance is determined to help end those stories.

“Education is the key,” said Carolyn Willis, Associate Vice President of Education and Outreach. “Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and Sudden Unexplained Death in Childhood are nationwide problems that are much more pronounced here in the Delta. Our goal is to reduce those numbers.”

“Anything that affects the nation, affects Mississippi four-fold,” said Willis. “And here in the Delta, we have to work even harder to reduce those numbers.”

Through an exciting partnership of key organizations, called the Delta Healthy Start Collaborative, expectant and new parents are learning ways to prevent these tragedies from happening. The Collaborative is a partnership between DHA, area healthcare agencies, social services programs and parent representatives that addresses the region’s high rates of infant mortality and poor maternal and infant outcomes.

“The Collaborative covers a wide range of education components, from teaching parents how to put their babies to sleep, to making sure there’s no clutter in cribs and reducing co-sleeping, to reducing environmental factors like smoking in the home,” said Willis.

For example, experts urge parents to put babies to sleep on their backs, never on their stomachs, until the age of one. Experts also point out that many myths exist about baby sleep, among them:

  • Babies sleep best in a quiet room. Not true. Total silence can make it more difficult for a baby to fall asleep. Remember that the womb, where a baby has been for nine months, is a noisy place, louder than a vacuum cleaner. Infants are accustomed to those rhythmic whooshing sounds. The quiet of the average home is jarring. The best bet is to play rumbly white noise for naps and at night.
  • Never wake a sleeping baby. Not true. Parents should always wake a sleeping baby using a technique called “wake and sleep.” It gently teaches your child the important skill of self-soothing. To begin, wake a baby just a tiny bit after sliding him or her into bed by tickling the neck or feet. Soon, he or she will drift right back to sleep. This is the first step toward sleeping through the night.
  • Teach babies to sleep in their own rooms. Not true. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies sleep in the parent’s room for at least six months (always on their backs, in their own bed). The practice has shown to reduce the rate of SIDS.
  • Putting babies to sleep on their backs has solved SIDS. Unfortunately, not true. The National Institute of Health’s “Back to Sleep” campaign quickly reduced sleep deaths from 5,500 in 1994 to 3,500 in 1999. But for the past nearly 17 years, progress has stalled. The truth is that 3,500 infants die during sleep each year. And though more babies are sleeping on their backs, the rate of accidental suffocation and strangulation has quadrupled since the mid-90s. Why? Unsafe sleeping practices are to blame. Seventy percent of all SIDS victims are found in adult beds, sofas and other risky locations.

“Our goal is to give parents more tools to improve their child’s sleep,” said Willis. “Our outreach program is effectively showing parents these simple ways to keep their children safe. These kinds of tragedies don’t have to happen.”