Alaska’s Infant Safe Sleep Project

Women's, Children's and Family Health (WCFH), a section of the Public Health Division, has been working for many years to improve Alaska’s education, outreach and messaging regarding infant safe sleep practices. When the American Academy of Pediatrics updated its infant safe sleep guidelines in 2016 and an analysis of Alaska PRAMS data (Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System) responses demonstrated widespread unsafe infant sleep practices throughout Alaska, WCFH decided to focus on harm reduction messaging for all families.

“Our goal is to help prevent Sudden Unexpected Infant Death (SUID), the leading cause of post-neonatal infant death in Alaska,” said perinatal nurse consultant and program coordinator Sabra Anckner. “Many of Alaska’s infants sleep in settings that can increase risk of SUID, and all families want to avoid the tragedy of losing their baby during sleep.” 

WCFH partnered with the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC) to develop Alaska-specific materials for use by all families in the state. They adapted the existing Healthy Native Babies curriculum for health care providers to create Healthy Alaska Babies, aimed at a wide range of professionals who work with families of newborns.  WCFH and the Office of Children’s services partnered to offer Healthy Alaska Babies “train the trainer” workshops throughout the state. The focus was on OCS field workers and their community partners, including tribal agencies, public health nursing, local nonprofits, and health care providers. The three-hour workshop focuses on risk reduction for the most common contributors to SUID in Alaska, including alcohol and/or drug use, bed sharing, sleep position and tobacco use. Workshop participants learn to support families with infants, discuss infant mortality and risk reduction and to lead workshops to educate others within their communities. This includes role playing exercises for a variety of situations. The goal is to inform parents and caregivers about the major risks associated with SUID and reduce risks without using fear and shame, recognizing that all families want to provide the best care for their babies.

Between March 2018 and January 2019, DHSS presented this training in 13 communities, reaching 338 attendees, including 278 from OCS and 60 partners from tribal agencies, health care agencies, child care centers, public health nursing, nonprofit organizations and other community groups. Final data from pre- and post-workshop surveys is still being analyzed, but overall feedback has been positive with attendees reporting a better understanding of safe sleep recommendations and an improved ability to support families in making safer choices for their infants.

To learn more: This article in the University of Washington School of Public Health Northwest Bulletin features Alaska’s new infant safe sleep education.

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