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Helping babies survive and thrive

Avoiding tragedy

December 03, 2008
The old way of doing things is not always the best way — even when it involves parenting. And although old habits are hard to break, when it comes to babies, new habits can save a life.

Barb Himes demonstrates how to set up a "PlayYard" crib at a seminar on Sudden Infant Death Syndrome recently at Hillview Christian Church near Marengo. (Photo by Lee Cable)
That was the message Saturday, Nov. 22, at Hillview Christian Church near Marengo, when representatives of "First Candle — Helping Babies Survive and Thrive" and others spoke to parents and prospective parents at a seminar that tackled old myths and beliefs with information that could steer new parents toward making a safer, happier home environment for their newborn and infant.

The seminar's focus was centered around three issues: safe sleep and SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), breast feeding, and Shaken Baby Syndrome.

Barb Himes, SIDS and Infant Loss Program coordinator for Indiana Perinatal and spokesperson for the First Candle initiative, spoke first about sleep-related infant deaths and what parents and grandparents — and other care givers — can do to make a baby's sleeping environment safer.

"In Indiana, there's too many babies dying due to a lack of a safe place to sleep," Himes said. "Babies should sleep close to parents, even in the same room, but on separate sleep surfaces, not in the same bed. And you have to be extremely careful about the type of crib or baby bed that's used. A soft drink can should not fit between rails. If it does, then destroy the crib. It's not safe for babies."

The event's mission was to educate, but also to provide free, folding baby cribs called "PlayYards" to those in attendance, with the hope of reducing SIDS in Indiana.

"There should never be any pillows in the crib where a baby is sleeping," Himes said, after demonstrating how the "PlayYard" is unfolded and set up. "There should never be stuffed animals or bumper pads in the cribs either. They're not needed. Infants will scoot to the corner of a crib, and if their face is obstructed, it will cause them to re-breathe their own air and suffocate themselves. It's much like a car with the engine running in a garage — the air will soon be used up. Many people think that stuffed animals are 'so cute' and that 'Grandma gave it to the baby, so it must be OK' — but it's not. It's very unsafe to have stuffed animals in a baby's sleep area."

Himes said that some parents are concerned about their baby having a flat head or bald spot if they sleep on their back, but there are ways to avoid that problem.

"Have the baby sleep in one direction for a week, then change and have the baby sleep in the other direction in the crib for a week," Himes said. "That helps shape the head. And when the baby is awake, you can let them play on their belly, but only when someone is watching. This is good exercise for the baby because they try to hold their head up and look around. But this can be dangerous if no one is watching. They can only hold their head up for so long, and then, when they drop their head to the surface, they can suffocate."

If a baby isn't sleeping well, they will sleep longer on their belly. But, Himes said, they shouldn't sleep that long.

"Sleep is a learned behavior," Himes continued. "Babies will learn how to sleep, and we need to help them do it right. Talk to them. Give them a warm bath and a soft massage with lotion, then put them to bed on their back, is a good routine. They soon begin to accept and like the pattern."

If there are twins, each baby should have their own crib, Himes said. If twins are placed next to each other to sleep, they can breathe each other's air and suffocate.

"There should be no diapers or blankets stored at the foot of the baby's bed," she said. "In the hospital, you see nurses leaving things at the foot of the beds. But in the hospital, they are watched 24 hours a day. And some people believe that a baby can choke if they throw up while laying on their back. But it's actually just the opposite. If they throw up laying on their back, the fluid will go back into the stomach, not into the lungs. But if a baby throws up laying on their stomach, the fluid will usually pool in a low area, which is created by the baby's head. It can then be breathed into the lungs and drown the baby."

Himes also touched on how parents often need help because "a tired parent makes poor choices," and that no matter what, a baby should never sleep with the parents.

"Babies can get under a pillow, or a parent can roll over on the baby while sleeping," Himes said. "And the bedding on adult beds these days are not good for babies. Cribs have guidelines. Adult beds do not."

Himes told a personal story about how she lost a baby years ago.

"I saw a story about SIDS in the newspaper," Himes said. "I didn't think it would ever happen to us. Four months later, it did. My husband and I woke up on Christmas Eve — and our baby was laying on his stomach — dead. More than 50 percent of babies sleep in unsafe conditions. We're working to try to change that."

Tina Cardarelli, who is the new breastfeeding coordinator for First Candle, also spoke about the health and economic benefits of breastfeeding.

Rita Harden of English spoke about Shaken Baby Syndrome and demonstrated how a baby can be injured and suffer brain damage from excessive shaking.

"Don't shake a baby for any reason," Harden advised. "Not even a little bit. This kind of injury is 100-percent preventable. If a baby is crying, there is a reason for it. They are only trying to communicate their needs."

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