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Swaddled in safety: Partnership with local fund helps Rice Hospital promote newborn health, lower risk of SIDS

Makenna Elizabeth Buesing models the sleep sack, a wearable blanket that swaddles the baby in a safe manner. Makenna is the newborn daughter of Derek and Kjersten Buesing of Granite Falls. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

WILLMAR — From the moment they’re placed in their cribs, babies born at Rice Memorial Hospital get a safe start in life with swaddling designed to help lessen their risk of sudden infant death syndrome.

The new initiative, funded through a partnership with the Dominick Bruns Memorial Fund, provides sleep sacks that keep babies secure and reduce reliance on blankets that might pose a breathing hazard.

Nurses in the women’s and children’s unit at Rice have been swaddling newborns in the sleep sacks since Jan. 1. Families also have the option of bringing home a free sleep sack when they and their new baby leave the hospital.

“Keeping babies healthy and safe — that’s the most important thing,” said Jan Maxfield, director of women’s and children’s care at Rice Hospital.

Feedback about the sleep sacks has been “very positive,” she said. “Most of the parents are very thrilled to be able to have it.”

Sudden infant deaths during sleep are rare but they’re always devastating to families when they occur, said Dr. Tim Swanson, a pediatrician at Affiliated Community Medical Centers in Willmar and head of the pediatrics department at Rice Hospital.

“It’s an ongoing concern,” he said.

In the U.S., approximately 4,000 infants under the age of 1 die unexpectedly each year while they’re sleeping. It’s the leading cause of infant mortality during the first year of life, and in about half of cases, no apparent cause of death can be found.

There are ways to lower the risk, however. Multiple studies have confirmed that a baby’s sleep position makes “a huge difference,” Swanson said.

Starting in the early 1990s, the American Academy of Pediatrics began promoting the “back to sleep” message for new parents.

“For several years now, we’ve been recommending that babies be put on their backs to sleep, not on their stomachs or sides,” said Swanson.

The risk can be further reduced by avoiding the use of blankets, soft toys and padded bumpers in the baby’s crib and by putting babies to sleep in their own bed rather than with their parents, he said.

Stomach sleeping is thought to be the chief factor in SIDS but researchers also have focused their attention on bedding and its role in “rebreathing” accidents. Rebreathing happens when exhaled air becomes trapped around a baby’s mouth and nose during sleep, increasing the carbon dioxide to a potentially fatal level. Blankets, stuffed toys, pillows and too-soft mattresses can all contribute to this risk.

The staff at Rice Hospital has worked for years to educate new parents about lowering their newborn’s risk of SIDS. The addition of the sleep sacks takes this effort to the next level, Maxfield said.

“With this, we’re really encouraging them about having no blankets in the bed. We’ve added another step to it,” she said. “If they start using it here in the hospital, it’s easier to continue using it at home.”

The swaddling is warm enough to eliminate the need for blankets, and many babies find it comforting, she said. “Any time they’re sleeping they should wear it.”

During the first few months of life is when it’s most helpful, Swanson said. “A parent can be pretty confident when they put their baby down to sleep that they can be safe.”

Over the past couple of decades, best practices have had a significant impact on reducing the number of infants who die of SIDS, he said. “The incidence has really gone down.”

With about 800 births each year, Rice Hospital’s partnership with the Dominick Bruns Foundation has the potential to reach many local families.

“We’re very appreciative of the fund. Without it, we wouldn’t be able to send a sleep sack home with parents at all,” Maxfield said. “It’s a wonderful way to remember Dominick.”

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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