Campaign to Decrease Black SIDS

African-American babies are twice as likely to die from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome compared to other babies.

Survey results issued today by the Consumer Product Safety Commission and Gerber Products Co., of Fremont, Mich., help explain why the death rate is so high.

Putting Babies At Risk

The survey found that more than half of African-American parents put their babies to sleep in positions that increase the risk of SIDS: They put the babies on their stomachs or sides and they place soft bedding such as quilts, comforters and pillows with the babies in cribs.

Only 31 percent of African-American parents place babies on their backs, a position that reduces the risk of SIDS, vs. 47 percent of white parents.

Studies have shown that soft bedding may increase the risk of SIDS deaths from suffocation. As many as one-third of babies who die from SIDS each year may have suffocated in soft bedding.

Campaign to Educate Parents

To lower SIDS rates, especially among African-Americans, the commission, Gerber, the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Bureau of Primary Health Care and the Black Entertainment Television network are launching a “Safe Sleep” campaign.

The campaign includes a national television public service announcement about proper sleep positions, baby safety showers to be held at community and migrant health centers and special programming on BET, which reaches 60 million households, this fall. Some 3,000 government-funded health centers that serve minorities will also distribute literature and will work with state and local health departments to dispense information.

In 1998, 2,529 babies died of SIDS, a rate of 64 deaths per 100,000 live births. For blacks, the number of SIDS deaths was 782, a rate of 128 per 100,000 live births.

Government campaigns to persuade parents to place children on their backs have helped cut the SIDS rate by nearly 40 percent since the early 1990s.

But these campaigns have been slow to reach blacks for a variety of reasons, say SIDS experts. Many poor blacks lack access to health care, so they’re not seeing family doctors or nurses or visiting pediatricians’ offices where literature is available.

Family Traditions Play Role

Culture and family tradition also play a role, according to Kimberly Mitchell, assistant coordinator at the National SIDS and Infant Death Support Center in Maryland.

While almost half of whites say they get information about sleep position from their physician or nurse, African-Americans say they tend to get such information from family members such as a grandmother.

“When you have family tradition, the way it’s always been done, that’s hard to counteract,” says Ann Brown, commissioner of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Forty percent of blacks in the survey said they didn’t place babies on their backs because of family tradition, compared to 22 percent of all parents.

Fear of Choking, Too

More than 70 percent of blacks said they feared babies would choke in vomit if placed on their backs, compared to 52 percent of all parents who believed there’s a choking risk.

Years ago doctors used to counsel against putting kids on their backs out of concern that babies who regurgitate in their sleep would choke.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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