Education is Key to Reducing Sudden Unexplained Infant Deaths

New Brunswick, NJ — New Jersey’s rate of Sudden Unexpected Infant Death (SUID) is the third lowest in the United States according to information issued this month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The state’s rate has been consistently one of the lowest for well over a decade due to the statewide programs of the SIDS Center of New Jersey that educate parents, caregivers and health professionals and many other providers on how to reduce the risk of sudden unexpected death in infants.

As part of SIDS Awareness Month in October, the SIDS Center of New Jersey is reminding parents and caregivers of steps they can follow to reduce the risk of SUID. SUID comprises a grouping made up of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), accidental suffocation and strangulation, and ill-defined and unknown causes.

“SIDS Awareness Month calls attention to the importance of safe infant sleep and its role in keeping infants safe. The information empowers parents and other caregivers, not just in October, but all year long,” said Barbara Ostfeld, PhD, program director of the SIDS Center and professor of pediatrics at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

Dr. Ostfeld along with Thomas Hegyi, MD, medical director of the SIDS Center and also professor of pediatrics at the medical school, emphasize the importance of following the established guidelines. During the first year of life, babies should be put to sleep on their backs on a firm mattress.  The mattress should be the type designed for the baby’s particular crib, bassinet or portable crib and should be covered only with a tight-fitted sheet. In addition, pillows, blankets, a bumper, stuffed animals or any other soft, loose bedding should be kept out of an infant’s sleep area. One-piece infant sleepwear can be used in place of blankets if warmth is needed. Bed sharing is not recommended, but room sharing with baby is. A smoke-free environment is critically important, and breast feeding also contributes to reducing the risk of SUID.

 “It is essential that health care providers communicate all of the risk factors of SUID ideally during the prenatal period, at birth and throughout the first year of an infant’s life,” said Dr. Hegyi. “In turn, parents can educate their families and individuals who care for their infants about safe infant sleep and other risk-reducing practices.”

Research by the SIDS Center of New Jersey contributed to the Safe Infant Sleep Policies of the American Academy of Pediatrics on which risk-reduction education is based. The AAP guidelines for reducing risk are included in the award-winning SIDS Info, the SIDS Center’s original risk-reduction mobile app available for free on iOS and Android platforms. An updated version of the app was released in September and includes English and Spanish voiceovers and links to educational materials. The app was selected as an education resource by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development’s Safe to Sleep Campaign. 

A second mobile app, Baby be Well, helps families keep their infants safe throughout the first year of life by reminding users of  safe sleep practices through engaging activities that encourage frequent return visits. It is designed as a traditional baby book where parents can upload photographs and milestones and even track day-to-day activities such as feedings. Parents can then share their personal account with grandparents and other caregivers who also receive safe sleep tips and reminders. Developed by Drs. Ostfeld and Hegyi and Rutgers University in association with volunteers at Microsoft Corp. as part of its AI for Good initiative and Tata Consultancy Services, the free app is available for Android devices.

Further expanding safe sleep education for caregivers and health professionals alike, the SIDS Center’s resources also include live and on-demand webinars in English and Spanish; a short informational video; replies to Frequently Asked Questions; and many other materials. Fliers that include the AAP’s guidelines also are available in languages that include Arabic,  Portuguese, and Haitian-Creole, as well as in English and Spanish.

The SIDS Center of New Jersey works closely with New Jersey’s public health programs to address the adverse social and health conditions, such as preterm birth, poverty and implicit bias, that increase an infant’s risk for SUID.  A live webinar by Dr. Ostfeld, presented for the American Academy of Pediatrics-New Jersey Chapter provides an in-depth background of the adverse social, health, environmental and behavioral risks associated with SUID. 

 “We encourage everyone to view and download this information and share it with colleagues and the community,” said Dr. Ostfeld, who was honored by the AAP-New Jersey Chapter in September as a 2020 Champion for Children for her research and public health initiatives. “We must never assume that parent education on safe sleep is being done by someone else along a parent’s journey. Each of us who has access to families and a relationship of trust can contribute to a better outcome for infants.” 

The SIDS Center of New Jersey, which is funded by the New Jersey Department of Health, is based both at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and Hackensack University Medical Center, part of Hackensack Meridian Health. The program provides bereavement support for New Jersey families whose infants died suddenly and unexpectedly, conducts research, and provides risk reduction education.