Guarding all infants in sleep

The loss of a baby is an extremely traumatic event and has enduring effects that ripple out from parents to their extended families, friends, and co-workers. Educating parents and other infant caregivers about making infants’ sleep settings safer can help prevent these tragedies and the considerable resulting emotional despair and productivity loss. A sizable racial disparity in rates of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) also troubles many people from a social justice perspective, spurring interest in understanding why the gap persists and how to reduce it. Although death rates from SIDS for both non-Hispanic white and non-Hispanic black babies fell during the back-to-sleep campaigns of the early 1990s, the gap between the two groups remains large. This is true in Illinois as well as the nation as a whole. The overall declines before and after the back-to-sleep campaign are dramatic. Nationally, deaths from SIDS fell from nearly 5,500 (rate of 1.3 per 1,000 live births) in 1990 to 2,250 (rate of 0.5) in 2009. The decline was even larger in Illinois – from nearly 300 SIDS deaths (rate of 1.6 per 1,000 children under age 1) in 1990 to fewer than 60 (rate of 0.3) in 2009. Yet the SIDS death rate remains almost double for black babies in contrast to whites nationally (1.8 times larger in 2009, down from 2.3 in 1995).3 In contrast, national SIDS death rates are lower for babies of Asian and Hispanic descent than whites. In Illinois, the SIDS rate for black babies was nearly 1.19 out of 1,000 children under age 1, in contrast to a rate of 0.31 for white babies during the 2000s, a near four-fold difference.4