Christina Ebenroth, OMS-2 and Haley M. Gesse, OMS-2 | December 10, 2019
Indiana has the seventh highest infant mortality rate in the United States, which correlates to one infant death every 13 hours.* On November 6, 2019, the Indiana State Medical Association Alliance (ISMA-A) along with both the Pediatrics Student Interest Group and Women’s Health Club from Marian University College of Osteopathic Medicine, hosted “Infant Mortality: Safe Sleep Initiative.” The event was attended by both medical students and faculty physicians as well as the First Lady of Indiana, Janet Holcomb; the Deputy Mayor of Indianapolis, Dr. David Hampton; the Dean of the College of Osteopathic Medicine, Dr. Donald Sefcik; and the President of Marian University, Daniel Elsener.
The first presenter was Holly Wood, from the Indiana State Department of Health. She began by asking the group if they had ever heard the term “SUID.” Confused faces were everywhere. Likely, everyone had heard of “SIDS” before which recalled tragic news stories featuring distraught parents left with no answers as to how their children had passed. Only two attendees had heard of this new term, which stands for Sudden Unexplained Infant Death (SUID). Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS, fits under the umbrella of SUID.
Even more alarming was to learn that in Indiana, approximately 40 percent of post-neonatal (after 28 days of life) deaths were due to SUID, and that out of 105 SUID cases, 99 of which identified a single unsafe sleep factor. These modifiable risk factors included stomach sleeping and sleeping in an unsafe environment, such as with blankets, pillows or bed sharing with a caregiver. Additionally, we learned that in the state of Indiana, SUID disproportionately affects African Americans with a rate more than three times higher than their Caucasian counterparts.**
The second speaker, Judy Bannon, the Executive Director and Founder of the non-profit “Cribs for Kids,” echoed these statistics. SUID still happens at alarming rates, disproportionately affects some, and is easily preventable. The mission for “Cribs for Kids” is “… to provide cribs to babies whose mothers could not afford them and to educate mothers about the dangers of unsafe sleep environments.” Judy became aware and passionate about the problem in the late 1990s when noticing that lower income families and African Americans were at the highest risk. The organization was instrumental in the passage of Pennsylvania Act 73, in 2010. This act requires that every mother is to be given safe sleep education for their infant before leaving a birthing hospital. This act continues to be passed in other states but is still not apart of nationwide legislature.
With these alarming statistics in the back of our minds, we are all left wondering, how is this possible? Why isn’t every new mother educated about safe sleep practices? Why are those who need the most being supported the least? There has to be a disconnect somewhere. Do obstetrician/gynecologists and pediatricians ask new parents where a young infant will be sleeping? Do they know what resources are available if a new mother says she doesn’t have a crib, or just plans to use a bassinet? Are these new mothers afraid to seek out help or resources due to fear of judgement, language barriers, lack of transportation, etc.?
So, what can we do? As medical students in the state of Indiana, we can have great influence on future infant mortality rates. As future physicians, we have the utmost responsibility to provide education to every individual who walks through the door. We can also advocate for better healthcare policy that incorporates documented prevention practices into written law. Like the act passed in Pennsylvania, the ISMA-A is looking to lawmakers at the state level to pass a law mandating that postnatal care includes safe sleep education, in the hopes that infant mortality rates will soon be on the decline. In addition, student doctors can always share the simple “ABCs” of safe sleep with anyone, including our family and friends:
* “Stats of the States - Infant Mortality.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2 Dec. 2019, https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/pressroom/sosmap/infant_mortality_rates/infant_mortality.htm.
** Wood, Holly. “Infant Mortality: Safe Sleep Initiative.” Infant Mortality: Safe Sleep Initiative. 6 Nov. 2019, Indianapolis.
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