MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — With three children, including a newborn daughter, Nicole Brown is no stranger to always learning something new about motherhood.
That was especially true before her daughter Emelia was born four years ago, a time when she and husband Thomas had already picked out lots of pretty items – including bumper pads and matching sheets, but to no avail.
“Right before she was born, we found out that you shouldn’t have any of those kinds of things, nothing other than a sheet really. And so we were out a lot of money,” she said with a smile.
Even now, there’s still plenty to learn – and the new information about better ways to help keep babies safe while they sleep sometimes goes against what other family members believe is the right thing to do, Brown said.
“But they still have lots of other good advice for us, so we take it and use what works best for us,” she said.
Her words rang true with First Lady Joanne Jaeger Tomblin, who spent part of Tuesday talking about efforts to reduce the state’s infant mortality rate – as part of a presentation entitled “Our Babies: Safe and Sound.”
Approximately 100 people – including Berkeley Medical Center doctors, nurses, administrators and board members – gathered at the Byrd auditorium for the Infant Safe Sleep Month Awareness event.
Berkeley Medical Center and Jefferson Medical Center are two of 16 hospitals in the state participating in a new, educational outreach program -Say YES to Safe Sleep for Babies – designed to reduce the risk of injury or death to sleeping infants.
Since her son is now an adult, Tomblin said she’d been amazed to learn how much has changed since he was an infant.
“And when I learned the horrible statistics, I decided to champion this cause because it is so important to the state because statistics tell us that one baby dies every 10 days in West Virginia due to unsafe sleep. It is the largest cause of infant mortality,” she said.
Consequently, it’s important to educate parents as well as family members on better ways for babies to sleep, according to Tomblin, who also stressed the need to change a local culture that believes old ways are still the best.
“Our mothers and grandmothers may talk about how they used to do things and everything turned out all right, but the numbers tell us today that too many babies are dying unnecessarily. It’s not a matter of abuse or neglect- in fact, some of these actions are done to help bond with the child but there is too great a risk,” she said.
Some items may provide an unnecessary – and unintended – strangulation or smothering threat to an infant, including having blankets or toys in a crib that can get out of place and prevent a baby from breathing, Tomblin said.
It is also not recommended that babies sleep with parents because an adult may inadvertently role over on the child and smother it, she said.
She said it’s also important that babies sleep on their back, not on their stomach as was previously the accepted practice, Tomblin said.
After her presentation, Tomblin toured the hospital’s mother/baby unit and also spent some time at the neonatal intensive care unit where parents proudly showed off newborns and also got a special gift to remember the visit.
Each family received an autographed edition of a book – one signed by Tomblin as she visited with them – used in the outreach program. “Sleep Baby Safe and Snug” was written by a doctor in Kentucky whose own baby was smothered to death while sleeping on his shoulder, she said.
In an attempt to reinforce the need for change, all new parents receive a packet – including the book, a CD and printed materials – to help them transition to safer ways of helping babies sleep.
Additionally, all babies born at the hospital – which averages about 1,000 annually – as well as those in the NICU are given a HALO SleepSack Wearable Blanket to replace serve as a safer, blanket-free alternative, courtesy of the Berkeley Medical Center Auxiliary.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has proclaimed September as Infant Safe Sleep Month, and sent a proclamation that was read during Tuesday afternoon’s event.
More information about infant safe sleep practices is available online at www.safesoundbabies.com.
– Staff writer Jenni Vincent can be reached at 304-263-8931, ext. 131, or www.twitter/jennivincentwv.com.