Safe Sleep for Babies with Alison Jacobson
October is Infant Loss Awareness Month. Meet Alison Jacobson, CEO of First Candle, a non-profit committed to preventing SIDS and sleep-related infant deaths through education about safe sleep for babies. Alison lost her own son to a sleep-related death and now teaches others about safe sleep.
Jen: Hi, this is Jen and this is Mom Cave Live, where we may have lost our minds, but we haven’t lost our sense of humor. I am Jen and I’m here with our special guest this week, Alison Jacobson from First Candle.org who is discussing Infant Loss as well as Safe Sleep Awareness Month.
It’s going to be a little more serious of an episode, though. Of course, you know, we can’t help but make jokes all the time about everything.
Infant Loss Awareness Month
But it’s because this is Infant Loss Awareness Month. So we’re going to talk to Alison a bit about that. Hi, Alison.
Alison Jacobson: Hi. Thanks so much for having me.
Jen: Thank you for being here. It’s such a really, really important topic that a lot of us don’t know as much about as we should or think we do. So I’m grateful for you being here.
Alison Jacobson: Thank you.
Jen: Can you tell us first, what is First Candle.org? How did it come about and where can they find it?
Alison Jacobson: So First Candle is a 40-year-old organization that’s been around – a nonprofit organization. We are national. We used to be known as the SIDS Alliance. And we have been involved in SIDS and Safe Sleep forever. In fact, we were instrumental in getting all the messages out about “Back to Sleep.”
And because of that, the rates of SIDS declined by 50 percent. But then all of a sudden they stopped. And about 10 years ago, they leveled out. So we started looking at the government level and pediatricians about what was happening.
And it was more than just “Back to Sleep.” The reality was that a lot of these incidents were sleep-related infant deaths with accidental suffocation. Now, the reality is that’s bad news, but it’s good news, because with SIDS, you didn’t know how to prevent it or how to to do anything.
Jen: It was very mysterious.
Alison Jacobson: Right! Exactly. It was this great mystery and scary as heck! With accidental suffocation, there are absolutely things we can do to help prevent it. What I wanted to point out is that it is Infant Loss Awareness Month, but it’s Safe Sleep Awareness Month as well.
And, you know, I’m not trying to make it more positive, but there are things we absolutely can do. Moms, grandmas, everybody needs to know there are simple things we can do to keep our babies safe.
Jen: Very well. Yes. The number one thing everybody who’s watching this probably already knows, because we’re a community of moms, is “Back to Sleep.” Put your baby on their back to sleep. Right. The opposite of what some generations before were telling us.
Alison Jacobson: Right.
Jen: So why is it that babies should be on their backs?
Alison Jacobson: Well, so and it’s not just generations before. It’s also cultural. Now, the reality is SUID, which is sudden, unexpected infant death impacts two times more black babies than white babies. And there’s a lot that goes into the cultural issues around safe sleep.
One is cultural. And there are still many people that think babies on their stomachs are better because they sleep better. Now, the reality is, again, when you think about accidental suffocation, you don’t think that baby’s going to be able to turn their head, but they do and they can turn it right into that mattress and suffocate. It’s a cause of infant loss that most people never consider.
So that’s why the “Back to Sleep,” and it’s not just “Back to Sleep,” but it’s a firm and flat mattress. And everybody says, well, Alison, what does firm mean? Firm means if you put your hand and press it down into that mattress, if you lift it up, if there’s an indentation–that mattress is too soft.
Jen: Soft. Right. We all want our babies to be comfortable and sleep. So everyone’s giving babies all these nice soft things. This plays into the fact that, especially when it’s your first baby, that you are so exhausted, you have no concept.
No matter how tired you think you’re going to be, you’re more tired…
Alison Jacobson: No clue.
Jen: Nothing! You’ll do anything to get this baby to sleep. But what we fail to realize is that the things that we’re doing are often the opposite of safe sleep.
Alison Jacobson: Right.
Awareness Of Unexpected Sleep Dangers for Babies
Well, and that’s the thing, right? I mean, you know, I have kids. You have kids. When you’re exhausted, the easiest thing to do, right, is bring baby into the bed with you because it’s cozy. If you’re nursing, it’s easier.
Alison Jacobson: The best thing to do is have a crib or bassinet right next to your bed so that as soon as you’re done nursing, you can move them into their own safe sleep environment. Now, I know a lot of people say, “Well, I’m never going to roll over on my baby.”
Totally true. But the thing is, babies root and scoot. So all of a sudden, they’re getting their head up by the pillow or they’re scooting down under the comforter or they’re turning into you and you don’t even realize it.
It’s not you. So that’s why it’s so important to place them near you, but not in the same bed.
Jen: Right. I was always afraid that as I moved the baby from nursing to the the bassinet or whatever, that was going to wake the baby.
Alison Jacobson: Yeah.
Yeah. I mean, there is that phrase, “Let sleeping babies lie.” Right? And I’ll never forget with my… So I have to say that my first son died of SIDS in 1997. And that’s how I got involved with First Candle.
Safe Sleep for Babies with Alison Jacobson | Prevent SIDS & Other Sleep-Related Infant Deaths
I went on to have three other babies. My now twenty-three-year-old, I remember driving him around forever, just trying to get him to sleep. And then, here was the other thing. When I did get him to sleep and bring that carrier in, I don’t want to take him out of the carrier.
Alison Jacobson: But that’s another danger which people don’t realize because if they’re in an inclined position, their head can come down and that can obstruct their airway. So don’t let a baby stay asleep in any inclined sleeper, in a carrier. That’s not safe sleep.
And you’re right. I mean, you don’t want to wake up a baby, but sometimes you have to. And there’s a lot of great sleep experts out there that help you learn how to get your baby to sleep.
Jen: Right. And part of being a little human is learning to put yourself back to sleep. In the moment, it’s so hard for us as parents to let them cry. That’s part of it. You know, you were describing… I’ve had two children and you are have describing all of the things that I did wrong.
And thank God nothing terrible happened. But, you know, the car seat sleeping. My youngest slept in a swing many nights because … also the Rock and Play and all of these.
Alison Jacobson: Yeah.
Jen: And in the bed. So it wasn’t until later, of course, I read these headlines and I’m like, “Oh my God.”
Nobody tells us that this thing is to me first, like nobody warned us. Right.
Getting — And Understanding — The Right Safe Sleep Information
Alison Jacobson: Right. And I think that’s what’s very difficult. And when we talk about these racial disparities, that’s one of the challenges. First of all, to get this information, when you’re in the hospital after having a baby, you’re whacked out of your mind.
You’re not listening to anything, you know. So you really need to hear that information. Three months, four months. And unfortunately, in many instances, they can’t afford to go back for well-visits. They don’t have the time because they can’t take their other children.
And because of implicit bias, I hate to say it, but many pediatrician’s nurses look at a 17-year-old black mom and say “She’s not going to listen to me,” and they’re not even provided the information. So that’s where First Candle comes in.
We are trying to educate everybody about what safe sleep looks like. Sometimes you can’t make it the safest, but at least you can make it a little safer. You’re upping your chances.
Jen: Upping your chances.
So other than doing things like talking to crazy moms like me on the Internet, how do you get this message out?
Alison Jacobson: So we’re very fortunate in that we have donors that go to FirstCandle.org and support us. But we are now doing in-community mom chats and dad chats. And what we’re doing is we’re going into inner-city communities and setting up mama-baby wellness centers in churches, in retail parking lots, in community centers where everybody: mom, dad, grandma, auntie, anybody can come and get the information and talk about the problems they’re having. Is their baby not sleeping? Are they having problems nursing? We’re taking the information directly to them.
The other great thing that happened, I mean, you know, it’s terrible, but it’s great. Cleveland Browns running back Nick Chubb, he’s one of the top of the NFL. Unfortunately, he lost his nephew two years ago to unsafe sleep. His sister, Nedra, just did an amazing video for us. I’ll be happy to send the link and you can put that up.
Jen: I’ll put that in the comments after.
Alison Jacobson: Yes. And unfortunately, it was not safe sleep. Her baby was only two months old. She had him on her bed, on his back. She just went out to the kitchen and the living room and came back five minutes later.
Help When It’s Needed
And he had rolled over the first time and couldn’t lift up his head. And so Nick has come out with a cereal, Chubb Crunch, and a portion of the proceeds is coming to First Candle to help us. We have wonderful companies like Love to Dream, which has the swaddle, the rainbow swaddle, five dollars of every swaddle comes to First Candle. And then we have individual donors because not only do we do education, but we also do support for families who have lost babies. So we have online Facebook support groups. We have materials we send out.
We have a grief line where anybody can call because grief doesn’t just happen in the moment. It’s 10 years later. It’s 20 years later.
Jen: Yeah. Oh, my God. That’s amazing. I love that you have the grief hotline. I’m going to put that in the comments. We have a comment saying “Thank you for sharing. I’m so happy to watch this amazing topic”. So when you were telling me the story just now, I’m emotional, you know, it’s sad to hear of that happening to anyone. It’s devastating. But when you are a mom and you hear these stories and you think it’s like that, there by, what is the saying?
Alison Jacobson: There by the grace of God, right?
Jen: Right. Like how many times did I do these exact things? I swear, swear. I know.
Alison Jacobson: It gives me chills.
Driving and Safe Sleep
Jen: Oh, it’s so, this is such important work. We were talking a little bit before we went live about where we live and how I do a lot of driving. Hours a day, it seems like. So when my kids go to school, it’s about 30 minutes away.
So when the oldest was in school and the youngest was a little baby, I was driving with her there and back twice a day. And, you know, that’s two hours of driving in this car seat. And I’m asking you this as the expert, maybe you do know.
I was reading somewhere that there’s a time, an amount of time, that you should, once the baby’s been in the car seat that long, you need to take it out and give it a rest.
Alison Jacobson: Right. Correct.
Jen: Can you tell us?
Alison Jacobson: Well, you know, it’s funny that you said there is a time, because I’ve really tried to research that and I haven’t found anything specific. But usually, we try to say half hour to an hour is a good time to take a break.
And so even if it’s and, you know, we have many families who say, well, you know, I’m not going to. Well, listen, you do that. If you have to feed your baby and nurse them, you’ll take them out of the car seat, nurse and put them back.
Even us, when we’re driving, we get tired or something. So let’s take a break. Just take a break. Wake them up, whatever. But I think, you know, one of the other things I really want to talk about, I think this is so important is products like the Rock-and-Play sleepers. That by no means was meant to be an item that a baby should sleep in. I do want to talk about… Many of your viewers probably know there was a recall on the Bobby Lounger. And what I want to say, though, is Bobby never intended that product for a baby to sleep in. It was like, you got to go pee. You got to put the baby somewhere. You got to cook. It wasn’t intended to walk away and allow your baby to sleep.
And I think that very often parents aren’t following the recommendations in the guidelines of how to use a product. We really need to be mindful to read the instruction and understand how it’s meant to be used.
Jen: A problem that I ran into a lot when I was reading these sorts of instructions is that when I would tell someone else– I’m trying to speak carefully–mothers, mothers-in-law…
Alison Jacobson: Yeah.
Jen: Great aunts. Right. Even babysitters.
And I’d say, you know, you’re not supposed to let the baby sleep in this. They would sort of you know, I know. They were just like, “Why would this even be a product if a baby can’t sleep in it?” And so you know, you turn out being the one where they’re saying like, “Oh, you’re overreacting. You’re just a new mom. For hundreds of years, babies have been fine.” And you want to say, “No, actually.”
Alison Jacobson: Right.
Jen: That’s the test, right?
Alison Jacobson: Well, and I think there’s a couple of things wrapped up in that, especially for new moms. I mean, I’ll be honest with you, after my son died, I had my next son and then I had my daughter.
Old Ideas vs New Data on Safe Sleep for Babies
And she was born in a very well-known, well-regarded hospital. After she was born, they brought her into me in the little isolette thing on her side. I said, because I had what I had experienced, “She needs to be on her back!”
The resident pediatrician was this young guy. He’s like, “I know that. I wish you’d tell the nurses because they won’t listen to me.” I think the challenge is when you have nurses and doctors who’ve been at it for so long, they’re not seeing what’s new.
And as young moms, for the first time, we are afraid to assert ourselves and advocate for what we know. Look, I don’t even care if it’s your pediatrician. Your pediatrician may see your baby once a week, once a month.
You’re mom, you know. If you feel like you’re not getting listened to, keep pushing. Keep pushing, You know what’s right for your baby. And too often as new moms, we question ourselves.
Alison Jacobson: You know what’s right for your baby
Jen: I was always afraid to be like “that mom.” Big step for young first-time mom. But now that I’m not that mom, I’m going to say don’t be afraid. Everybody isn’t judging. They were “that mom” once, too. Yeah, they’re just on the other side of it, you know.
Alison Jacobson: And the other thing I would encourage too Yeah, grandparents are hard, man, like they have their own ideas. And so that’s why we feel that there have to be different messages about safe sleep, some that go to new moms, some that go to dads, some that go to grandmas, because they’re going to hear things in different ways
We actually started a new social media channel, Safer Sleep for Babies. You can find it on Instagram and on Facebook, because we don’t want it to be the “dictate.” We want it to be the “listen and learn.”
And as hard as it is with your mother-in-law, sometimes it is, “Tell me about what you know” or “Tell me what it used to be like,” and engage in a conversation, hard as that may be, to say “Did you know…” “Well, let me show you something.” “Did you know?” “Well, let me show you something,” and then you can always point them to our site, right? Because, you know, take it off of yourself.
But try and that’s what we do. We never say to a parent, “You should be doing this. This is what you need to do.” We’d rather say, “Let’s talk about it. What do you know? Did you know?” Engage in that conversation. We’re not about blaming and shaming. We’re all trying to do what’s right for our kids.
For The Dads
Jen: Definitely. I think not, again, to stereotype here, but with men, with the dads sometimes statistics really make a difference.
Alison Jacobson: Yes. You know, if you can come with your scientific proof and say this many, you know, sudden infant deaths happen.
Statistics don’t lie.
Alison Jacobson: Well, we had we did a lot of focus groups last year. Listening sessions in Michigan, Connecticut, and Georgia. And we had them with moms, grandparents, caregivers, and dads. And what we heard from dads was really interesting. Dads want to be involved. But especially during COVID, Dad couldn’t go to the doctor’s appointments, so he would get information second and third-hand. And while he wanted to be involved, he wasn’t sure how. And he didn’t want to tell mom what to do. But at the same time, when he did go to appointments, he noticed that all the material was directed at mom. And dads are an important part of a baby’s safe sleep, too.
And even the doctors talk to mom and think about …. I hate to say it, but think about when we go to a car dealership. Right? They talk to the guy. Yeah, totally. Dads feel like the pediatricians are talking to Mom.
And what we heard is dads want to hear from other dads. So what we’re doing is these pop-ups is having other dads, they’re talking to dads and they want to hear in places they’re hanging out. At bars, at basketball courts, wherever dads are. That’s where dads want to hear from other dads.
Jen: That’s smart.
Alison Jacobson: Yeah.
Jen: You know, those are some great tactics here.
Alison: We’re trying.
Jen: Yeah. So tell everyone again, all of the places that they can find you.
Alison Jacobson: Yes. So you can find a lot of information at First Candle on Instagram. On Facebook, it’s First Candle for Babies. But you can always just find us as well, our website. And you know, again, we live by donations.
We have been around for 40 years. Last year was hard with Covid. But my dream is to have every baby reach their first birthday. And we can make that. But we do need help from families. You can also go to Safer Sleep for Babies to get more information on social media. And what we’re encouraging everybody, because it is Safe Sleep Awareness Month, take a picture of your baby in a safe sleep environment, tag First Candle and use the hashtag #safesleepsnap. As in snap a picture. And we’re trying to flood Instagram and Facebook with pictures of babies and safe sleep environments.
Jen: That’s a great idea. You know, I know you guys out there are loving to share your baby pictures with me on social media. So this is another great place to share them. Show off the adorableness of your baby, but for a good cause.
Alison: Yup, exactly.
Jen: Oh, thank you so much for talking with me. We’re going to continue pushing this and letting everybody know and creating awareness. And I hope that we can partner in the future and just keep babies safe.
Alison Jacobson: Thank you so much. Thanks so much.
Jen: OK, bye, everybody.
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