Assessing Language in Sudden Infant Death Prevention Messages

May 3, 2016

Researchers Lori Behrens from SIDS Resources, Inc. and James Kemp from Washington University worked together on a project supported by the St. Louis Community/University Health Research Partnerships (CUHRP) to answer the question: “How can we talk to mothers about safe sleep for their babies?”

Why it’s important

The “Back to Sleep” campaign, launched in 1992, raised awareness about the importance of placing a baby to sleep on his or her back to lower the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Although the campaign cut the national SIDS death rate in half, it still affects a disproportionate number of African American babies.

In St. Louis City, African American babies are two to three times more likely to die from SIDS than other babies. Common risky sleep practices include babies sleeping on a surface not designed for infant sleep, babies placed on their stomachs to sleep, and sharing a bed with an adult.

Their project

Behrens and Kemp wanted to gain a better understanding of how to talk about safe sleep practices with African American parents and caregivers. To do this, they conducted four focus groups with African American mothers. The focus groups asked mothers about their sleep practices and barriers to safe sleep. They also surveyed pediatricians to learn what sleep practices they recommend to new parents.

In the second phase of the project, the partners developed and tested an educational intervention based on the focus group and survey findings. Women who received the intervention saw one of two presentations—a SIDS Resources, Inc. standard SIDS presentation or an enhanced SIDS presentation that included a stronger message against bed sharing and addressed barriers to safe sleep practices.

Immediate impact

  • A key focus group finding was that women knew about safe sleep practices, but didn’t always follow them. The same barriers to safe sleep were consistent across groups, and the partners describe these as the Three C’s: the perceived comfort of infant, closeness (the belief that “if I’m close to my baby then nothing bad can happen”), and the convenience of bed sharing.
  • The survey of pediatricians found that most talked to mothers about the importance of putting babies to sleep on their backs. However, they were less consistent about educating mothers about other safe sleep practices. SIDS Resources, Inc. recognized this as an opportunity to educate pediatricians and provide them with patient handouts.
  • SIDS Resources, Inc. was able to make many new connections with pediatricians. These connections will help them to better collaborate with the St. Louis medical community to deliver a consistent message about the best ways to prevent SIDS.

Next steps

SIDS Resources, Inc. reconvened the Safe Sleep Task Force to look at media messages and how to integrate the Three C’s into them. They also hope to form a peer advisory panel made of parents and grandparents. The researchers will continue to explore the most effective ways to talk to caregivers and pediatricians about SIDS.

Project highlights

“We’re a very small organization. We never would have had the capacity to take the time to closely examine (through focus groups) what people were hearing and who they were hearing it from, and examine what language we use when we reach out to the community.” —Lori Behrens, SIDS Resources, Inc.

“SIDS Resources has done really good work. They’ve led a pediatric grief counseling model for what to do for parents when their children have died, and they do good work in the community. I’m interested in what they do and how to help them.”
—James Kemp, Washington University