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Anti-SIDS Campaign Aimed at Blacks

July 19, 2000

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Over half of black parents place their babies to sleep on their stomachs or sides, putting them at greater risk of sudden infant death syndrome, the Consumer Product Safety Commission said Wednesday.

Only 31 percent of black parents place babies on their backs, a position that reduces the risk of SIDS, versus 47 percent of white parents, according to a CPSC survey.

The commission launched a national ``safe sleep″ campaign aimed at blacks, joining with Black Entertainment Television, which will air nationwide public service announcements during prime viewing times and develop news stories about SIDS.

``There’s an information gap that needs to be addressed,″ said Ann Brown, CPSC commissioner.

Blacks are also more likely to put quilts, comforters and pillows in bed with their newborns. Such soft bedding can increase the risk of SIDS death from suffocation and may have contributed to as many as 900 SIDS deaths a year.

With black babies twice as likely to die from SIDS as other babies, CPSC officials said the survey shows more needs to be done to alert blacks about the how to reduce SIDS risks.

The key is getting information to the right people within the black community, said CPSC officials. Blacks tend to learn safe-baby practices from a grandmother, mother or other family member who may still believe that it’s safe to put babies to sleep on their stomachs because that’s what they were taught.

``When you have family tradition, the way it’s always been done, that’s hard to counteract,″ said Brown.

Three thousand government-funded health centers that serve minorities will also distribute literature to patients and work with state and local health departments.

The aim is to get the word out to people in black communities _ family members, neighbors, clinics _ who are influential to young black mothers and fathers.

``If we start to reach grandmothers and other family members it will fan out across the community,″ said Brown.

In 1998, 2,529 babies died of SIDS, a rate of 64 deaths per 100,000 live births. For blacks, the number of SIDS deaths was 782, a rate of 128 per 100,000 live births.

Government campaigns to persuade parents to place children on their backs has helped cut the SIDS rate by nearly 40 percent since the early 1990s.

But the campaign has been slow to reach blacks for a variety of reasons, say SIDS experts. Many poor blacks lack access to health care, so they’re not seeing family doctors or nurses or visiting pediatricians’ offices where literature is available.

Culture and family tradition also play a role, said Kimberly Mitchell, assistant coordinator at the National SIDS and Infant Death Support Center in Maryland.

The survey of 460 parents showed that 38 percent of blacks placed their babies on their sides and 20 percent put them on their stomachs. That compares to 36 percent of all other parents who put babies on their sides and 15 percent who placed babies on their stomachs.

Forty percent of blacks in the survey said they didn’t place babies on their backs because of family tradition, compared to 22 percent of all parents.

Over 70 percent of blacks said they feared babies would choke in vomit if placed on their backs, compared to 52 percent of all parents who believed there’s a choking risk.

Years ago doctors used to counsel against putting kids on their backs out of concern that babies who regurgitate in their sleep would choke.

The CPSC campaign, funded by Gerber Products Co., recommended several steps for babies under 12 months:

_Place babies on their backs on firm, tight-fitting mattresses.

_Remove all pillows, quilts, comforters and sheepskins from cribs.

_Consider using a sleeper as an alternative to blankets.

_If using a blanket, use a thin one and tuck it around the mattress so it reaches only as far as the baby’s chest.

_Make sure the baby’s head remains uncovered.

_Never put babies to sleep on a waterbed, sofa, soft mattress, pillow or other soft surface.

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On the Net:

Consumer Product Safety Commission: http://www.cpsc.gov

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