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Donated materials promote safe sleep for newborns

Members of the Pierce County Citizen Review Panel present shaken-baby DVDs, sleep sacks and printed materials offering "safe sleep" and cope-with-crying tips to the birth center at River Falls Area Hospital. Pictured, left to right, are Diana Bunce, Heidi Roettger, Nurse Manager Julie McGary and Betsy Byker. <i>Judy Wiff photo</i>

Two local organizations are working with River Falls Area Hospital birth center staff to provide information and materials to improve safety for infants.

Through a joint project, the Pierce County Citizen Review Panel and the Family Resource Center St. Croix Valley obtained infant sleep sacks, shaken baby syndrome DVDs and printed materials to distribute to the parents of newborns.

The review panel -- one of five in Wisconsin that go over cases of child fatalities and near fatalities and offer input to local child protection workers -- learned that there's a trend of very, very young babies being abused, said Betsy Byker.

Byker, who works for Family Resource Center St. Croix Valley and serves on the panel, said major problems are co-sleeping, the practice of allowing infants to sleep with one or both parents, and crib deaths.

The panel, which gets a small amount of money from the state, decided to use some of those funds to buy the shaken-baby DVDs, sleep sacks and printed materials offering "safe sleep" and cope-with-crying tips.

The panel approached Halo, the company that makes the baby sleep sacks, which ultimately donated eight sacks to the hospital. The panel bought another 16.

"It sure helps us to get some funding," said McGary.

She said the American Academy of Pediatrics requires birth centers to provide information on SIDS and shaken baby syndrome.

RFAH already has parents of newborns watch the shaken-baby DVD before leaving the hospital and sends a copy home with the new family.

Other materials sent home with new parents include door hangers reminding caregivers to place infants on their backs to sleep and keep soft bedding and toys out of the child's sleep area as well as a flyer advising parents to develop a plan for dealing with a constantly crying baby.

All babies cry and some seem to cry no matter what the parent does, said McGary. The DVDs and printed information help parents plan for that, she said.

"It addresses a really serious issue in a kind way," said Byker.

"It goes through stuff that's so good to know when you're there alone in the middle of the night," added McGary.

"Hopefully when parents are struggling, they will pull (the DVD) out and watch it again," said Byker.

The newly donated sleep sacks will be distributed by Family Resource Center workers who meet with parents of newborns at the hospital and then follow up with them when they go home.

The birth center also gives each family one sleep sack, a wearable blanket that replaces loose crib blankets which could cover a baby's face and interfere with breathing.

McGary reminded parents that statistics show infants who are placed on their backs to sleep are 50 percent less likely to develop SIDS -- "That's phenomenal."

Current members of the Pierce County Citizens Review Panel are Byker, Diana Bunce, Heidi Roettger, Jerry Breen, Ed Paulson, Jackie Schwartz, Diane Holcomb and Jennelle Wolf.

The panel can have 12-15 members -- so more are needed. Those interested may call Pierce County Human Services Director Ronald Schmidt at 715-273-6766.

No professional qualifications are needed for membership, said Byker, "You just have to care about children."

Judy Wiff

Judy Wiff has been regional editor for RiverTown’s Wisconsin newspapers since 1996. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and sociology from UW-River Falls. She has worked as a reporter for several weekly newspapers in Wisconsin.