Monday, 8 November 2010

SIDS: Pennsylvania: prevention law questioned

By Adam Brandolph
Thursday, November 4, 2010

Medical professionals say a new state law requiring parents to acknowledge they've received information about Sudden Infant Death Syndrome is well-intentioned but flawed.
"Education is a good thing, but it has to be good education and targeted at a time people can hear it and learn from it," said Raymond Firth, director of behavioral health at the University of Pittsburgh's Office of Child Development.
"Moms in the hospital are fatigued; they have a whole new role. They're getting medical exams, the baby's getting medical exams. They're getting all this information on domestic violence, crib sizes, car seats -- they're getting bombarded with information, and they may not take the time to read the details."
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS, is the sudden death of an infant younger than one year old that cannot be explained. One of the leading causes of death among newborns in Allegheny County, 68 infants died of SIDS from 2001 to 2006. In the first eight months of this year, as many deaths were attributed to SIDS -- 15 -- as in all of 2008. The toll was 14 last year. A board of medical professionals meeting monthly determines whether a death is from SIDS.
Pennsylvania's law, signed last week by Gov. Ed Rendell, requires the state Health Department to develop a program to promote SIDS awareness and education, and distribute educational materials to hospitals and birth centers. Parents are required to sign a statement indicating they read and understand the materials provided by their physician before mother and baby are discharged from the hospital.
"Any effort at the hospital would help, but that just can't be the remedy," said Peggy O'Malley, a public health administrator for the Allegheny County Health Department.
"We need obstetricians and family practices to talk about this in the second trimester; instructors at child birth classes, Lamaze -- any kind of education they're receiving ... and right after the hospital. You're just not going to change attitudes or behaviors because someone signed this form."
Eileen Carlins, director of support and education at Sudden Infant Death Services of Pennsylvania, a nonprofit organization on the North Side that backed the legislation, is on the front lines of the fight.
"In my job, I'll talk to a mom and she'll say, 'Well, I didn't know about this. ... I didn't know it was dangerous to sleep with the baby, or I didn't know to put my baby on his back.'"
Sen. John Pippy, R-Moon, who sponsored the legislation, said it's designed to prevent those conversations.
"A lot of parents are just unaware of the dangers that are out there," he said. "We've heard stories of people who've lost babies, and it's really tragic. We know that informing parents about SIDS prevents deaths, and this new law will make that information more readily available."

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