Eliminating Unsafe Sleep Key to Reducing Michigan’s Infant Mortality Rate

Eliminating Unsafe Sleep Key to Reducing Michigan’s Infant Mortality Rate

Nothing holds more promise than a newborn baby.

Losing an infant, especially to a preventable death caused by an unsafe sleeping arrangement, is the most unimaginable heartbreak.

“Everyone thinks it won’t happen to them, but it does happen,” said Sarah Scranton, Chief Executive at Tomorrow’s Child.

Last year in Michigan, 142 infant deaths were related to unsafe sleep. Sadly, they were all avoidable, Scranton said. September is Infant Safe Sleep Awareness Month in Michigan, which ranks 39th in the country for infant mortality. Only 11 states have worse rates.

One Baby Dies Every Four Days in Michigan Due to Unsafe Sleep

In Michigan, five out of every 1,000 Caucasian babies, seven out of every 1,000 Hispanic babies, and 14 out of every 1,000 African-American babies dies before their first birthdays. One baby dies every four days in Michigan due to unsafe sleep environments.

Scranton said reducing the number of unsafe sleep related deaths would place Michigan more in line with national infant mortality rates. Babies can suffocate as a result of sleeping in an adult bed or on other dangerous sleep surfaces such as couches, arm chairs or pillows.

“Unsafe sleep deaths are a large part of what makes up our infant mortality rate,” Scranton said.

Ideally, babies sleep safest on their own in a crib, bassinet, or portable playard with a firm mattress and a tightly fitted sheet. There should be no other items in the sleeping area such as toys, pillows or blankets. Babies should be dressed warmly, but not so much that they’ll overheat, and be placed to sleep on their backs.

Reaching Health Professionals and Parents to Save Infant Lives

Over the last year, Tomorrow’s Child has been working on a project called “Keeping Michigan Babies Safe and Healthy”. The effort was co-funded by the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan (BCBSM) Foundation and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

The aim of the initiative was to gauge and address health professionals’ knowledge of safe sleep practices, increase parents’ knowledge of the positive benefits of infant safe sleep and provide solutions to barriers encountered in placing infants to sleep in a safe environment.

Tomorrow’s Child partnered with Henry Ford Health System, Detroit Medical Center – Hutzel Hospital, and Spectrum Health System to identify inpatient and pediatric clinic sites for a multi-step intervention to change parents’ behaviors when placing the infant to sleep.

A three-pronged approach involved:

  • Educating health professionals to ensure messaging about safe sleep being provided to parents was accurate and current.
  • Providing Baby Safe Sleep kits to 3,000 new parents, complete with a onesie printed with “This Side Up” on the front.
  • Reinforcing safe sleep messages to parents through ongoing contact with health professionals, such as the baby’s pediatrician, during well-baby visits to reinforce safe sleep choices.

Results of pre- and post-initiative testing indicate that:

  • Health professionals felt more confident about advising parents on infant safe sleep practices after they’d received training. The number of professionals reporting it “very important” to teach safe sleep practices rose by almost 30 percent, with 93.8 percent of respondents giving it top rank. The remaining respondents rated the practice “important”.
  • Parent surveys showed that 83.9 percent were placing their baby to bed on its back and that 90.2 percent were placing baby in his or her own sleeping apparatus. Over 97 percent agreed that their baby’s crib was safe and 87.2 percent agreed that “it is best for my baby to sleep on his/her back.”

The BCBSM Foundation will encourage the replication of the positive results from “Keeping Michigan Babies Safe and Healthy” to other Michigan hospitals. Scranton said with many establishments doing away with formula-related giveaways as a means to promote breastfeeding, the safe sleep kits are a viable and worthy replacement.

“Parents are always looking for free stuff and this project boosted morale for staff and patients,” she said.

Hear stories of Michigan parents who have lost babies due to unsafe sleep. Find safe-sleep guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics here.


The Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Foundation supports research and programs to improve the health of Michigan residents. No grant money comes from the premium payments of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan members. To learn more about BCBSM Foundation grant programs, visit bcbsm.com/foundation.

Photo credit: Caitlin Regan