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KU researchers to lead program to improve safe sleep practices for infants, families

Tue, 11/30/2021

Sleeping baby. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

LAWRENCE — Information on safe sleep practices for infants that could prevent tragic injuries or deaths may not always reach parents or caregivers. The University of Kansas has secured a grant to evaluate several programs that seek to train parents, provide them with safe sleeping equipment and collaborate with community members, agencies and families to provide safe sleep training in a consistent, anti-racist way.

KU’s School of Social Welfare received a four-year, $248,528 grant from the Missouri Children’s Trust Fund to conduct a program evaluation of safe sleep practices in five communities in Missouri.

The goal of the initiative is to reduce infant injuries and deaths through access to safe equipment, knowledge and skills to practice safe sleep.

“There is information on how an infant can sleep safely that doesn’t always get to expecting families, and there is a racial-equity component to consider as well,” said Pegah Naemi Jimenez, research associate in social welfare at KU and principal investigator of the Safe Sleep Grant Program Evaluation for the Missouri Children's Trust. “We know in our country that infant mortality rates are higher for Black infants, and among other infants identified as marginalized than among white infants. We’re seeing those disparities in sleep injuries and deaths as well. We hope that our evaluation will help the awarded grantees toward their goal to reduce those disparities.”

Researchers will evaluate the current trainings provided to hospitals, community organizations and families designed by the grantees on how to ensure safe sleep for an infant. Best practices include having them in a crib or bassinet by themselves, on their back, on a firm mattress, without excess bedding, and in a room with the parents. Grantees will help ensure low-income families have access to cribs and bassinets and wearable blankets to keep infants warm while sleeping.

Researchers will also lead focus groups with families of diverse racial, ethnic and economic backgrounds to determine what information they need, how best to deliver it to them in a useful way and ensure that the messages are consistent, as well as free of cultural biases, either unintended or previously unknown.

“We want to know, from the families’ perspective, how these trainings resonate with them,” Naemi Jimenez said. “Did you receive the message? If so, did it make sense, were you able to use it, or was it something different from your generational practices and teachings? How can we make these environments as safe as they can be and share information on how to do that without insulting or contradicting how people have raised their children for centuries?”

The focus groups will help determine how trainings are developed and how messages are crafted and delivered to family members and communities. Evaluation during the project will determine messaging consistency, exploring which messages and practices are effective, and how they are delivered to mothers, fathers and secondary caregivers such as grandparents.

”The long-term goal is to reduce infant sleep injuries and deaths, but short- and medium-term goals will determine how to effectively share safe sleep practices in a consistent manner and increase knowledge and awareness of safe sleep practices,” said Jared Barton, assistant research professor and co-investigator.

Successful methods can be shared with other communities and agencies beyond the initial phases of the project to enhance safe sleep practices more broadly. Initial communities in the project include the Kansas City and Saint Louis metropolitan areas and three rural communities in Missouri.

Sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS, is the unexplained death of an infant under 1 year of age most related to infant sleep-related injuries and death. This project will help understand how safe-sleep education, trainings, awareness and knowledge may help parents avoid preventable incidences such as injury or suffocation from excess bedding such as blankets, pillows or bulky sheets, overheating, soft surfaces or bed-sharing. Kaela Byers, associate research professor and co-investigator, added that ensuring parents have the equipment and knowledge delivered in ways that are well-aligned with family culture and history helps ensure their infants are sleeping safely, promotes family and community health, and may help avoid numerous preventable tragedies.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons



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