In 2016, 1,024 Ohio children under the age of 1 died - more than the previous year, despite concerted efforts on the part of government officials and non-profits to curb infant deaths. One of those non-profits, the Columbus-based CelebrateOne, is pushing another effort to keep babies safe.
Through February 28, Celebrate One will provide warm sleeping garments called "SleepSacks" to babies born in Franklin County. SleepSacks' design helps prevent suffocation while babies sleep at night.
Alicia Leatherman, director of strategic initiatives for CelebrateOne, says winter is one of the most dangerous times of the year for babies.
"Unfortunately, we have had a serious problem with sleep-related deaths for infants," Leatherman says. "Particularly during the winter months, we see those numbers increase."
Part of that increase, Leatherman says, comes from the blankets parents use to wrap their babies on cold nights.
"People like to overbundle babies. They think that babies need to be layered up more than we adults do," she says. "And in fact, babies are comfortable if we're comfortable in most cases."
When more than one blanket is put around a baby, it increases the risk that, in the course of kicking and wriggling during the night, extra fabric will surround their face and suffocate them, or they'll overheat. The SleepSack avoids that problem.
"They kind of look like baby onesies without feet. It actually zips up and there's enough room for the baby to kick his or her feet, but it's enclosed so it doesn't move, it doesn't flip," Leatherman says. "A baby can't get it over their face, because it's a sleeveless, zip-up, kind of wearable blanket."
Partnering with Mount Carmel Health System, OhioHealth, and The Ohio State University, more than 6,000 of these garments will be distributed over the next three months, along with educational materials on safe sleep practices. The garments were made possible through private donations.
Leatherman says that they're hoping this effort will contribute to the larger effort towards infant health.
"Last year we had 26 [deaths] for the year, and we set a goal of a 30 percent reduction," she says. "We are fairly confident, hopeful, optimistic, whatever word you want to use, that we will achieve at least a 30 percent decrease in sleep-related deaths. And then those deaths hopefully will help impact and lower our overall community infant mortality rate."