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B'More Babies

Alicia Buelow

B'More Babies (continued)

With SIDS as the most easily avoidable cause of death, the project’s leaders decided to focus on that syndrome, and push the message that “Safe Sleep” is critical: The baby must sleep alone (without siblings or parents), on his or her back, and in an approved crib.

But before the CCP team—including research and evaluation deputy director Doug Storey—could get that message out, they followed the same procedure they use overseas: they listened to the people they were trying to reach.

“We did focus groups with moms, dads and caregivers,” Church-Balin says, “to find out what people know and do when they put infants to sleep. They knew the message of safe sleep. But there was a big disconnect: Babies were sleeping in parents’ beds, in siblings’ beds, on couches.”

Storey and Church-Balin asked the focus groups about that discrepancy. “And they told us, ‘You have to hit us over the head really hard with this message. You have to get in our faces.’”

That led the CCP team to a simple conclusion. “We [had] to cut through social and cultural barriers and get through on an emotional level,” says Church-Balin. “We needed these parents to think, ‘That could be my baby.’”

To achieve that, the campaign recruited three Baltimore City mothers who had lost children because of unsafe sleeping environments. Through posters, videos and advertisements, these mothers will be the faces of the campaign.

The “Safe Sleep” message is one that wasn’t made clear to Dearea Matthews, age 25. She is the mother of two young children, both of whom had spent time in the family bed as infants, with no issues. On December 29, 2009, her third child, 1-month-old Charlie Jordan Matthews, was asleep in bed beside her and husband Derrick. Dearea awoke and found little Charlie motionless and not breathing; despite efforts to revive him at Johns Hopkins Hospital, he died. The baby’s cause of death was ruled to be SIDS.

When the B’More for Healthy Babies campaign approached Matthews in June about sharing her experiences, “at first I said no,” Matthews says today. “But my husband and I started to talk about it, and I called a minister at my church. She said, ‘If you can help another mother, you need to do it.’”

Of her decision to join the campaign, Matthews says, “I remember thinking, ‘No other mother should have to go through this.’ And then I told myself, ‘OK, now I can do it.’”

Changing Behavior

This campaign is about changing behavior, says Church-Balin. “We learned from focus groups that people will listen to their health care providers and their relatives who have raised children,” she says. “We have to give the provider the tools to reinforce the message. We want hospitals to show the video [of the mothers] to new parents.”

The second planned phase of B’more for Healthy Babies will aim at achieving healthy pregnancies. “We want to start by focusing on three areas: smoking cessation, early and consistent prenatal care, and getting mothers to support groups and services and family planning to delay the next birth,” says Church-Balin. The third phase would go even further and attempt to create a “healthy Baltimore”—improving overall community health by creating safer places and environments for families to interact with each other.

Can Baltimore pull it off? It’s possible, says Guyer. “Baltimore is a great example of a city that dramatically improved immunization coverage,” he notes, referring to the city’s 2006 success in boosting its child immunization rate through a strong public relations and schools-based campaign that linked data sources into an immunization registry. In just three months, the city’s rate of immunized school-age children rose from 62 to 99 percent.

Connecting mothers and prenatal care services could improve birth outcomes in the same way. “We are finally hearing federal and state officials linking early health, nutrition, child development, parenting, safe environments and readiness for school,” says Guyer. “What we really need is to link these concerns in a way that builds the capacities of families and communities to give their young children the best start."


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