Tacoma General helps new parents combat sudden infant death syndrome

Tacoma General Hospital has mostly switched from swaddling newborns in blankets to using sleep sacks, hoping parents follow suit.

The new program is meant to combat sudden infant death syndrome.

Pierce County has the highest annual rate of infant deaths in Washington with 5.7 per 1,000 births — 23 percent higher than the state average of 4.7, according to state Department of Health statistics from 2009-2011, the most recent available.

“This is a problem in our community, and we wanted to do more,” said Erin Summa, child safety coordinator for the Center for Childhood Safety at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital. “We find it’s meaningful to parents to do what we do here, so we wanted to be a good model.”

The center donated 3,200 sleep sacks to the hospital in July to hand out to the parents of every baby born at the hospital. The hospital also began using the sleep sacks in-house when babies are born. Halo SleepSack Swaddle, which sells the sacks for about $20, sends the sleep sacks to the hospital and charges them only the cost of shipping.

The cream-colored sleep sacks wrap around the baby to keep the child warm but are snug enough that there’s no risk of a loose blanket suffocating the infant. The sacks zip from the bottom to allow parents to change the baby’s diapers without disrobing the child.

Sarah West, 38, and Chris Blaesi, 35, said they were tickled when they were given the sleep sack last week after the birth of their second son, John “Jack” Blaesi. Although they were familiar with sleep sacks because they used them on their eldest son, Ben, they liked the handout from Tacoma General because of the zipper and snug swaddling feel.

The new mama, who described the sack as a “burrito,” said it was user-friendly.

“The idea is you don’t have to worry about loose blankets and suffocation,” West said. “You have enough stress when they come home.”

The Center for Childhood Safety also gifted 120 sleep sacks to MultiCare Auburn Medical Center, along with a stack of children’s books educating parents on safe sleeping tips.

Summa said the sleep sacks at Tacoma General should last about a year since 3,000 or so babies are born every year at the hospital. The center hopes to continue providing the sleep sacks in the future, but it will be a matter of funding. This batch cost $26,000.

“We’re looking for ways to help families find safe sleeping environments for their babies,” Summa said.

Stacia Glenn: 253-597-8653