MA Launches Efforts to Prevent Infant Sleep Deaths

BOSTON — Health and Human Services Secretary John Polanowicz today announced an infant safe sleep campaign focused on the importance of infant safe sleep practices and promoting ways to reduce risks associated with Sudden Unexpected Infant Death (SUID), the leading cause of death among infants between the ages of one to 11 months and often associated with unsafe sleep practices.

“Unsafe sleeping among newborns is a public health issue here in Massachusetts and across the country,” said Secretary Polanowicz. “The good news is that it is often preventable. By providing public education and targeting training and resources, we can give parents, guardians and caregivers the tools they need to reduce the risk and promote positive brain activity that comes with safe sleep.”

This summer, HHS Assistant Secretary for Children, Youth and Families Kathleen Betts, convened an interagency Task Force on Infant Safe Sleep to take direct action to educate the public, parents and caregivers about infant safe sleep practices and find ways to collaborate across state agencies, and with medical associations and hospitals, to reduce the risks associated with unsafe infant safe sleeping practices. The Task Force is comprised of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, the Department of Children and Families, the Department of Public Health, the Office of the Child Advocate, the Department of Early Education and Care and the Department of Housing and Community Development.

“This heartbreaking and sometimes preventable condition can happen in any family regardless of income, education or community,” said Assistant Secretary Betts. “Working together, through this Task Force and with public and private partners, we can give all who come into contact with infants a consistent message about simple, safe sleeping practices, and help families create a safe sleeping environment.”

To ensure safe infant sleep, babies should always be put to sleep on their backs, alone in their own crib or bassinet, with no bumpers, pillows, quilts, comforters or other soft surfaces in the crib. Parents and caregivers should not bed-share with their babies and anyone under the influence of drugs, alcohol or if they are smoking, should not rest with a baby. SUID affects 30 – 50 newborns each year in Massachusetts.

Throughout the month of October, the interagency Task Force on Infant Safe Sleep will launch a robust campaign to educate the public about the importance of infant safe sleep practices and to help families, caregivers and all who interact with infants to create a safe sleeping environment.

  • Mass.gov/SafeSleep: Health and Human Services launched a new website with information, fact sheets, training and downloadable posters on safe sleep practices for parents, caregivers, health care providers and others who are involved with infant care.
  • Awareness Advertising: Throughout the month of October, advertisements will be placed where infants and families frequent to help reinforce positive messages about safe sleep. With the support of the MBTA and MassDOT, informational “Safe Sleep Awareness” posters will be posted on orange and red line trains, and in select busses, as well as billboards throughout the Commonwealth. Additional posters and magnets will be disseminated to Department of Children and Families Offices, Department of Transitional Assistance Offices, domestic violence shelters, Licensed Childcare Centers and Department of Housing and Community Development office locations throughout the Commonwealth.
  • A Book for Every Baby: Partnering with the Baystate Medical Center, Boston Medical Center, University of Massachusetts Memorial Medical Center, Cambridge Health Alliance and Boston Children’s Hospital, the Task Force is providing every new parent in Massachusetts during the month of October with a copy of “Sleep Baby, Safe and Snug,” which gently reminds caregivers of best practices while putting baby to sleep. Working with publishers at the Charlie’s Kids Foundation, the Task Force will distribute more than 6,000 copies of the book in both English and Spanish directly to 46 maternity hospitals and, through Reach Out and Read, close to 5,000 copies to pediatrician offices and health centers
  • Resources for Physicians: Through the Massachusetts Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and Massachusetts Hospital Association, the Task Force will share information about available resources with doctors, pediatricians and other health care professionals encouraging them to talk with parents about this issue.

“As House Chair of the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities, I believe vital information regarding the safest and best practices for the care of our children can be critical in saving the life of a child,” said Representative Kay Khan. “I commend the Governor for his campaign to raise awareness on the importance of reducing risk factors to prevent infant deaths. The Governor’s Infant Safe Sleeping Task Force will launch a campaign in October that will provide the public with informative materials to enable parents and caregivers to recognize the importance of safe sleeping habits.”

During a Legislative breakfast event in the Great Hall of the State House, Secretary Polanowicz issued a proclamation from Governor Deval Patrick announcing October as Infant Safe Sleep Awareness Month in Massachusetts. Co-hosted by Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities Chairs Kay Khan and Michael Barrett, members of the Patrick Administration kicked-off the month-long awareness campaign, distributing educational materials and demonstrating best practices in infant safe sleep. Secretary Polanowicz was joined by Department of Children and Families interim Commissioner Erin Deveney, Department of Public Health Commissioner Cheryl Bartlett, the Department of Early Education and Care Deputy Commissioner David McGrath, the Department of Housing and Community Development Homeless Associate Director Ita Mullarkey and the Office of the Child Advocate Deputy Director Elizabeth Armstrong.

“Parents and caregivers can take simple steps to keep babies safe while sleeping,” said Public Health Commissioner Cheryl Bartlett, RN. “We are pleased to join our partners to provide these new resources and bring this important message home. Educating parents and caregivers will save lives.”

“As the agency tasked with protecting children, we are grateful to all of our partners here today who have committed their resources to promote this incredibly important and worthwhile cause,“ said Interim Commissioner of the Department of Children and Families Erin Deveney. “Educating the public is the first step toward promoting safe sleep practices here in Massachusetts and ensuring that we are all working together to protect babies and children, and keep them safe.”

“This intensive, statewide initiative underscores the importance of raising awareness and educating the public about the dangers of unsafe sleeping practices and how to ensure infants are put to sleep properly,” said Department of Early Education and Care Commissioner Tom Weber. “This campaign is a reflection of our collective commitment to protecting our youngest and most vulnerable children.”

“The OCA joins our partners in sending the safe sleep message to all those who care for infants,” said Elizabeth Armstrong, deputy director of the Office of the Child Advocate. “By raising awareness about safe sleep and the prevention of sudden unexpected infant death, we can move toward the goal of making every sleep time safe for every baby in Massachusetts.”

“Charlie’s Kids Foundation was founded by my son, Sam and his wife Maura to honor their son, Charlie whom we lost to SIDS in 2010. Our mission is clear; to increase Safe Sleep awareness and education with the ultimate goal of reducing infant mortality,” said Gary Hanke, Charlie’s Kids Foundation board member and Charlie’s grandpa. “Partnering with the Patrick Administration will allow us to provide thousands more new parents and caregivers across Massachusetts with a timely, consistent reminder about safe sleep practices at the most important time, just before sleep.”

For more information or resources on infant safe sleep, please visit: Mass.gov/SafeSleep.