On December 29th 2009, Charlie passed away while sleeping with his parents in their bed. He was one month old. “Knowing what I know now, Charlie would have slept in his crib that night instead of in our bed with us,” explains Charlie’s mother, Dearea Matthews. “I wish I could go back to that night and change it.”
While that night can never be altered, the Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs (CCP) hopes to help other families avoid similar tragedies through a hard-hitting educational campaign on infant safe sleep. Launched in August 2010, the media campaign pivots on the testimonies of Dearea and two other Baltimore mothers who have recently lost their babies in sleep-related deaths. The appeals are emotional, uncompromising, and impossible to ignore.
“We needed to tap people where their emotions are, to overcome entrenched behaviors about how and where babies sleep,” says Cathy Church-Balin of CCP. “To alleviate the fear we give the solution – that’s the behavior change we’re hoping for.”
The behavior change is summarized in a slogan that the campaign hopes parents will remember every time they put their baby to bed: Alone. Back. Crib. No exceptions. The messages are featured in public service announcements on radio, billboards and transit stops, as well as in a video for screening by parents as they are discharged from hospital obstetric units.
Part of a three-year initiative, the campaign focuses on safe sleep in a first effort in reducing Baltimore City’s alarmingly high infant mortality rate (IMR). At 14 deaths per 1,000 live births, the IMR reaches a level typically seen in less developed countries. Sleep-related deaths are the second leading cause of infant death in Baltimore, with an average of two babies dying each month while sleeping in unsafe conditions.
“B’more for Healthy Babies” is Baltimore City’s response to this public health crisis. The initiative – a partnership of the Office of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, the Baltimore City Health Department, CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield and the Family League of Baltimore City Inc. – represents an unprecedented opportunity to change behaviors and improve birth outcomes.
CCP is leading the strategic communication component of the initiative and evaluating its effectiveness.
“We believe that that every baby in Baltimore deserves the best start possible, to be born at a healthy weight, full term, and ready to thrive in a healthy family,” says Church-Balin. “Most importantly, we believe this goal is achievable.”
Reaching into the Communities
While “B’more for Healthy Babies” hopes its message will be heard city-wide through its hospital education and communication efforts, it will target three communities in particular. Patterson Park North and East, Upton/Druid Heights and Greenmount East have been identified as target communities for the initiative which will seek to increase community involvement and action using local nonprofit groups. Through these communities, the initiative hopes to reach families who may be missed by the traditional health care system.
It is this unique partnership – between the existing health care infrastructure, community organizations and affected individuals – that has B’more for Healthy Babies poised to succeed. And if B’more for Healthy Babies does reduce the infant mortality rate in Baltimore, it will prove to be a model to be replicated in cities across the United States.
Dearea Matthews hopes this will be the case. She did not want to participate in the initiative at first but realized that by participating she could “[…] help another mother realize this is real,” she said. “That’s all I want to do.”
For more information and to view the video, visit the B’more for Healthy Babies website, https://healthybabiesbaltimore.com
Read about B’more for Healthy Babies in the news:
Baltimore to Promote Safe Sleeping Practices for Babies (August 9, 2010)