Baltimore, a city that has some serious disparities in almost every measure but remains a beautiful black city nonetheless, saw six infants die in their sleep in as many weeks, the worst rate of such deaths since a 2009 campaign to prevent these kinds of tragedies began.
The Baltimore City Health Department confirmed to The Root that five of the babies were black, and that one was identified as mixed race.
“We watch the trends really carefully and we know when there are any deaths,” said Rebecca Dineen, assistant health commissioner for the city’s Bureau of Maternal and Child Health, according to the Washington Post. “It obviously alarmed us and we wanted to do something immediately.”
Dineen leads the B’more for Healthy Babies campaign, which promotes proper sleep practices so babies don’t suffocate, become strangled or inexplicably die before they are a year old. She said the latest deaths are especially devastating because they might have been prevented if caregivers better understood the risks.
Sleep-related deaths remain rare. In Baltimore, they trended down from a high of 27 in 2009 to a low of seven in 2016, before rising to 13 last year, according to department data. But the rash of recent deaths, occurring once a week for six weeks, was a rate not seen before.
Although officials couldn’t pinpoint why these deaths happened, they did note that in a majority of the homes, a member of the household was smoking tobacco, e-cigarettes or marijuana, and that the babies were not placed on their backs, alone, in their cribs.
The campaign calls this preventative step the A-B-C-D method for alone, back, crib, don’t smoke.
B’More for Health Babies says it will continue to use the A-B-C-D campaign in messages and plan to reach out to trusted messengers in the communities as well as churches so that they can help spread the word. The campaign will also target Baltimore Health Department offices for WIC, or Women, Infant & Children.
As with most things in this country, including maternal mortality, infant mortality has a huge racial disparity. Although no one can definitively say why, more black babies die in their first year than any other ethnic group, with the exception of Native American babies. In fact, black infants are twice as likely to die as white babies in the United States. Some cities, like Milwaukee, have rates of infant death as high as those of women in underdeveloped (formerly called third world) nations.
In light of the recent deaths, the B’more for Healthy Babies campaign also plans to add the hashtag #NotOneMoreBaltimore to its messaging.