A terrifying rise in Sudden Infant Death Syndrome has prompted Island Health to launch a proactive campaign to ensure local babies are sleeping safely.
Island Health, formerly known as the Vancouver Island Health Authority, has partnered with Nuu-chah-nulth Nursing to provide new and expecting parents throughout the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District with free baby beds.
Baby beds are self-contained, box-like sleeping containers equipped with a firm mattress and fitted sheet to ensure safe snoozing.
The B.C. Coroners Service sounded the alarm for increased sleep-safety earlier this year after the province saw 15 sleep-related infant deaths between January and April.
“We had as many infant deaths in the first few months of this year as we did all last year in B.C.,” Medical Health Officer Dr. Charmaine Enns told the Westerly News.
“It’s heartbreaking to hear of an infant that dies and it’s even more heartbreaking for the parents. We know parents want to only do the best thing for their babies, there’s no doubt about that. But, sometimes, without enough information or choices or options you don’t necessarily know that you could make a different decision.”
Enns said too many parents are unknowingly putting their new babies in danger by letting them sleep on couches or adult beds, where the risk of suffocation is high for infants too young to be able to roll themselves over.
“During that first 3-4 months of their life, they’re especially vulnerable to having their nose or mouth covered and then not being able to protect themselves,” she said.
“There’s a number of things that go into making the safest sleep environment possible for babies. Having a firm flat surface is one and babies being on their back is the second…Adult beds are not firm, flat surfaces. They might feel firm for us adults but, for an infant, that’s actually a soft surface.”
She added the baby beds also provide tangible and convenient mobile options for nap time.
“It works beautifully. Baby’s in its own space on a flat surface. It’s all good,” she said.
“Every sleep time matters for these little guys. You need to take all sleep times equally serious.”
She acknowledged many women breastfeed in bed but said moms and babies should sleep separately.
“When its time to sleep, baby should be in its own space to sleep and you be in your own space and you’ll both sleep better,” she said. “It’s a good thing to sleep in the same room, but it’s actually risky to sleep in the same bed.”
She added baby beds should be free of unnecessary clutter.
“Keep where they’re sleeping free of other blankets and pillows and stuffed animals. They don’t need that and it’s actually risky for them,” she said.
“Lesser is better for babies. Especially for the first few months.”
Finland has been offering free baby beds to new parents since the 1930’s and these beds are seen as a key reason why Finland has one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the world at 1.8 per 1,000, according to Island Health. Canada’s infant mortality rate is 3 per 1,000 and Vancouver Island’s is 3.9 per 1,000.
Enns said Finland’s baby bed program empowers and enlightens parents to make safer sleeping choices and also introduces new parents to healthcare professionals and sparks conversations around important infant topics like sleeping and eating as well immunization schedules and growth rates.
“One of the key features that has been so successful is that connection of new parents to healthcare providers. That relationship provides for those important conversations,” she said.
“Sometimes you don’t think about it until you’ve actually been a part of the conversation. It’s meant to be empowering to parents because you can’t actually make a choice if you don’t know what your choices are.”
Along with the baby beds, local parents can also pick up a digital thermometer, lanolin nipple cream, washcloths, diapers and other tools that will help them through the first few months of parenthood as part of Island Health’s new program.
Anyone looking for more information is encouraged to contact the Port Alberni Health Unit at 250-731-1315.