While Hamilton County's overall infant mortality rate is trending down in 2019, sleep-related deaths are surging. Cradle Cincinnati reports there have been 20 sleep-related infant deaths so far this year in Hamilton County and Northern Kentucky.
Cincinnati Health Commissioner Melba Moore calls it a community crisis. "Infant sleep-related deaths are a silent issue in our community, and they are preventable. They are not seen as the threat they are."
Despite the popularity surrounding the idea of co-sleeping, Executive Director Ryan Adcock says Cradle Cincinnati's message is there is no safe way to do so.
"A lot of these deaths are invisible. We don't hear about them individually on the news and people are just assuming that it's not happening as frequently as it's happening or that it's a really rare event," he says.
"Rolling over on your child is the leading cause of death between one month of age and one year of age," Adcock points out. "More kids are dying in Hamilton County from bed sharing than from car accidents, than from fires. We worry so much about the safety of our children and a lot of the things we worry about are not nearly as risky as sleeping with your child."
African American communities are disproportionately affected by the increase. According to data from Cradle Cincinnati, "70% of all sleep-related deaths in 2018 and 2019 happened to black families in Hamilton County." Specifically the 45225 zip code, which encompasses North and South Fairmount, Roll Hill and Millvale.
Adcock says it's important to take the blame off families and rally around them with support.
"It's really important to think beyond individual behavior and think about the systems that are in place in our community," he explains. " For one example, housing can complicate a family's decision around safe sleep ... if you maybe don't have as much room as you might need, maybe don't have room for a crib, maybe don't have as much access to a crib."
A Targeted Response
The first message for combating unsafe sleeping practice remains pushing the ABC's of safe sleep. That is, babies sleep safest "Alone, on their Backs, and in Cribs."
Cradle Cincinnati, the Cincinnati Health Department and Hamilton County Public Health are also launching several initiatives.
- Safe sleep ambassador trainings for community members beginning in October.
- Prenatal care providers, birthing hospital staff and pediatric providers will engage in safe sleep messaging.
- An expansive social media campaign about the hows and whys of safe sleep.
- A new report on safe sleep in Hamilton County will be released in the fall.
- A video developed by moms from the community that discusses safe sleep, which will debut at Final Friday OTR in August.
Adcock also recommends helping your friends and neighbors, too. A simple offer of help so a parent can get some extra sleep could go a long way. Free pack-n-plays are also available from the Cincinnati Health Department for qualifying families by calling 211.