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Health, Science, Environment

After losing state funding, groups trying to prevent infant deaths seek donations

Nurses fror Newborns CEO Melinda Ohlemiller demonstrates safe sleep practices in a donated portable crib, at the organization's St. Louis offices. December 2017
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio.
Nurses fror Newborns CEO Melinda Ohlemiller demonstrates safe sleep in a donated portable crib, at the organization's St. Louis office.

Lessons on safe sleep practices for low-income parents, and 200 portable cribs. That’s what a $20,000 contract represented for a St. Louis nonprofit, before the Missouri Department of Health decided not to renew it this fall.

“We were told they are switching their focus … to violence prevention,” said Lori Behrens, executive director of Infant Loss Resources. “It’s hard to argue with the need for that.”

The crib donation program is one of the most commonly requested items offered by Infant Loss Resources, Behrens said. The change comes alongside deep cuts to social services in Missouri’s budget, which Republican Gov. Eric Greitens signed in June.

Other organizations are experiencing even steeper losses. But Behrens’ group and other nonprofits working to prevent infant deaths in the St. Louis area decided they could try and make up the difference.

“At a time when we’re trying to address safe infant sleep and address infant mortality, to lose a funding source that’s directly related to one of the most common ways that babies lose their lives was a tough hit,” said Nurses for Newborns CEO Melinda Ohlemiller. “This quite simple thing … it has a huge impact.”

The groups are ramping up their efforts to collect and distribute portable cribs before Jan. 1, Ohlemiller said. Her organization also accepts cash donations. A $100 contribution pays for the crib and a staff member to go over safe sleep practices with a new parent, she said. 

Those practices are known as the A, B, C’s: Babies should sleep alone, on their back, and in a crib or bassinet that meets safety standards. If a family doesn’t own a crib, meeting those standards becomes harder.

About 3,500 U.S. infants die each year from sleep-related deaths, a number that has not declined in recent years, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“If the family’s stress level is high, or their house is cold, or they have to get up really early the next morning, all of those things can impact that decision,” Ohlemiller said. “Am I going to keep the baby in bed with me even though it might not be the safest thing?”

Follow Durrie on Twitter: @durrieB

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