Hoping to reduce the number of infant deaths, Los Angeles County officials unveiled a campaign Wednesday to educate parents about how to safely put their babies to bed.
Over the last four years, 278 babies in the county have died from suffocating while they were sleeping — more than all other accidental deaths of children under age 14, officials said. The deaths are more common among Latino and black babies, officials said.
"Accidental suffocation poses the greatest risk for babies from 1 day to the age of 1," said Deanne Tilton Durfee, executive director of the county Inter-Agency Council on Child Abuse and Neglect. "Nothing else is more dangerous to our babies than the way they are put to sleep."
Tilton Durfee said parents know to put medication out of reach, not to leave their children alone in a bathtub and to put their babies in a car seat, but many don't know how to ensure their babies are sleeping safely.
The campaign, led by the Inter-Agency Council and First 5 L.A., includes bilingual public service announcements on radio and television and posters around the county. Officials will also distribute brochures to child-care centers, hospitals and doctors' offices.
L.A. County Department of Public Health Director Jonathan Fielding said that there are geographic disparities among the infant deaths, with two-thirds occurring in the South Bay, South Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley. Fielding said habits and culture have contributed. "This is simply an issue of education," he said.
The campaign advises parents to:
• Put babies to sleep on their backs every time;
• Keep all toys, blankets, pillows and stuffed animals out of cribs;
• Put babies in their own cribs or bassinets.
Eviana Magee's daughter, Brielle Brookins, died in 2009 when she was 4 months old. Magee said she laid her daughter down to sleep and went to work. Soon after, she got a call that Brielle wasn't breathing. She rushed to the hospital, where her daughter was pronounced dead.
"I just held her until I couldn't hold her anymore," she said.
Magee said she didn't know that she wasn't supposed to have anything in her daughter's crib. "I didn't understand that something so easy could have stopped the hardest thing that has ever happened to me," she said.