Written by: C. Denise Richardson, Healthy Shelby Volunteer
Co-Written by: Victoria Williamson, Healthy Shelby Program Coordinator
Twenty-five years ago this fall, young mother C. Denise Richardson put her baby daughter to bed for the last time. The seemingly healthy 10-week-old infant didn’t wake up the next morning.
For Richardson, the baby’s death was a personal heartbreak. For Shelby County, the tragedy contributed to one of the highest infant mortality rates in the country. Despite recent improvements, Shelby County continues to have a high percentage of children who die before their first birthday. In 2013, the rate was 9.2 out of 1000 live births in Shelby County compared to 6.8 in Tennessee and 5.9 in the U.S.
Researchers have determined that one cause of infant mortality is sudden infant death syndrome or SIDS. SIDS can affect any family, no matter the socioeconomic background. Healthy Shelby and the Shelby County Health Department have partnered to lower infant mortality by teaching parents about safe sleep practices to help combat this unexplainable death. Safe sleep is explained using the ABC’s: Babies should sleep ALONE, on their BACKS, and in a CRIB.
When Richardson’s daughter died, infants were often put to sleep on their stomachs. Two years later, the American Academy of Pediatrics began recommending that babies be placed on their backs at naptime and bedtime. Since that recommendation in 1992, the annual SIDS rate has declined more than 50 percent. Richardson shares her story here in hopes that it will help prevent other infant deaths.
“When I enter grocery stores, shopping malls, education institutions, physical fitness facilities, and especially social media sites, I’m reminded of my youthful days. Youthful days full of hope, promise, goals, and, oh yeah…high risk pregnancy. It’s definitely a “hard pill to swallow” witnessing a perpetual cycle of community dysfunction.
When I gave birth to my first child, it wasn’t that uncommon for teenage girls to become pregnant with their first or second child. Some young ladies experienced numerous pregnancies without regard to the high costs, care, and lifestyle changes pregnancy brings on. I remember my mom’s look of heartache once it became clear that her only child was pregnant…again. I was twenty-one and pregnant with my second child. No prenatal care with the first pregnancy, and that child was born at twenty-seven weeks weighing 2 pounds 3 ounces. Happily, that baby is a happy, healthy adult today.
But, this child was different. I kept my appointments. I wasn’t as ashamed concerning my pregnancy as I had been with the first pregnancy. I realized so much about my young physical body that I had not previously known. I had an incompetent cervix which also contributed to my preterm birth. This pregnancy would be different. I could feel it! I was doing what I should be doing with physician visits, healthier eating habits and prenatal vitamin consumption.
Boy was I wrong! How wrong was I? My baby was premature, but she was a healthy 4-pound, 5-ounce baby girl born July 10, 1990. She died on September 23, 1990. I remember this day as though it were today. The anguish and disgust I experienced coping with the police investigation, probing neighbors, and disheartened family and friends. My baby girl succumbed to that malicious, mysterious, and unexplainable baby killer, SIDS.
In the early nineties, the research concerning SIDS was still new. However, progress to pinpoint measurable triggers or contributory factors continues to be made. In many instances, the ABCs of healthy sleep habits for both parent and child assist in preventing the SIDs syndrome. When my baby passed, she was, in fact, on her tummy. There are many practical resources and practices pregnant mothers can practice to lessen the likelihood of SIDs in their home, family, or community. These are my reflections, and I am an only child whose mother was/is a registered mental health nurse. I was a former teen statistic, and I am part of the village to empower others, especially young girls, through various health education platforms.”
Remember your ABCs when you are putting a baby to sleep. ALONE, on the BACK, and in a CRIB.