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County Hall Corner: Sleep Well, Little Baby

Few things in life are more precious and beautiful than a baby. And thus, few things are more tragic and horrible than the death of such a one. The county coroner is one who must see this over and over again, and even experiencing it once is once too often. It was with this past anguish and future hope that Coroner Kiessling and his associate Kathryn Nickles received the proclamation for November to be named Infant Safe Sleep Awareness Month at the County Commissioners Meeting on Thursday, November 1st.

It might seem on the surface like another ‘So and So Month’ type proclamation, but this one deserves serious attention. Surprisingly, the United States’ 5.8 death per thousand infant mortality rate is the highest among Western nations, almost three times higher than Japan and Sweden. Most of these deaths are the result of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or SIDS.

Research has shown that many of these deaths can be addressed by a better sleeping environment for the baby. It is as easy as ABC. The “A” stands for “alone.” The safest place for a baby to sleep is to sleep alone in their own crib, but in the same room as their caregiver. The “B” is for “back.” Babies should be placed on their backs to sleep and on their tummies to play. The “C” is “crib.” It should be a crib or bassinet that meets current safety standards, and should not have loose bedding, bumpers, or toys in the crib.

Awareness is important, but the crib is key, and that can be problematic. A program named Cribs for Kids originated in Pittsburgh in 1998, birthed out of a child death review team that did a five-year study there showed that out of 68 infants deaths, 66 were in an unsafe sleeping space. It was in 2009 that the county experienced three infant deaths, and it was then that Coroner Kiessling realized that though it was not their responsibility, the Cribs for Kids program was needed. Since that time, through this program, 143 cribs have been offered to mothers coming from referrals from Children and Youth, Expectations, and other such agencies. Through the program and emphasis on the ABCs of child sleeping safety, there has not been an incident of SIDS in Lycoming County in the past three years.

Pennsylvania House of Representative Garth Everett has championed this cause and is one of the sponsors for the House Proclamation to make November the Infant Safe Sleep Month. Charlie Hall, Garth’s local representative, has been the champion’s champion, going the second mile in promoting this initiative not only in Lycoming County but throughout the state. He estimates that perhaps a dozen other counties have adopted similar resolutions such as Lycoming County.

At the Commissioner Meeting on November 1st, Kathryn Nickles shared movingly that she still can see the faces of every one of the infants that have died. It hurts her to think that despite all the efforts from the coroner’s office, the future may not be good. The funding for the Cribs for Kids has dried up, and new sources will need to be found to continue it. Hopefully, that will happen — because all of us would sleep better knowing that the babies are safe, too.

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