New parents in South Dakota can rest easier because their babies are sleeping safer. That's according to those involved with a program that provides play pens and cribs to low-income families. It's been two years since Governor Daugaard appointed a task force to address South Dakota's high infant mortality rate. On average, 79 babies a year that are born in South Dakota die before their first birthday. The program Cribs for Kids is blanketing the state with a message of safe sleep.
Sara Jerke is shopping for bedding at the Teddy Bear Den in Sioux Falls. As a mother of two daughters, and a boy due in September, she's all about making sure her kids are safe when she tucks them in.
"That's probably my number-one concern, is where they sleep at night and how they're sleeping through the night," Jerke said.
Jerke is considering taking part in the Cribs for Kids program when she becomes a new mom for the third time.
"I don't think I slept much when I was a first-time mom. A lot of hanging my head over the bassinet at night and watch my oldest sleep," Jerke said.
Many new parents can't afford to buy cribs and playpens. So their babies often double-up with siblings or mom and dad. That's a very dangerous sleeping arrangement because of the potential for the baby suffocating, or even being crushed.
"I was amazed at how many people still don't have a safe environment for the child to sleep in. Some places had multiple families living together, they just said, we don't have room for a big crib," First Lady Linda Daugaard said.
South Dakota's First Lady Linda Daugaard is spreading the message about safe sleep.
"So many of these deaths could be prevented by just keeping that baby on its back, on a firm surface, in a crib by itself, nothing else in the crib, no stuffed animals, bumper pads, whatever," Daugaard said.
Clients of the Teddy Bear Den earn points through healthy lifestyle choices, like scheduling doctors appointments and watching a video promoting better parenting.
"It's up to you to love and care for your baby and keep him or her as safe as you possibly can..."
800 points earns parents a new playpen for their baby.
"The response in our program has been fantastic. We've gone through about 125 of them since the program started and our participants are in dire need of a safe place for their children to sleep," Teddy Bear Den Executive Director Sandy Lown said.
Each playpen comes with a special kit that includes a pacifier, educational brochures, bedding and a sleep sack to keep the child warm at night, instead of a blanket.
"Rather than your child sleeping in layers or having a lot of blankets, this outfit serves as the blanket for your child, much safer," Lown said.
So far, the South Dakota Department of Health has distributed more than 2,700 play pens, portable cribs and safety kits. Daugaard says Cribs for Kids is making a big difference in the state.
"I had a mom the other day that said, 'Guess what? My daughter finally put her baby in a crib because she heard you talking about it and how easily they can suffocate when they're sleeping with mom,'" Daugaard said.
Daugaard hopes safe sleep awareness becomes second-nature to parents.
"We'd like to elevate Cribs for Kids to the point of car seats so when you go home, you go home in a car seat and you have a safe place to sleep as well," Daugaard said.
With so many little lives at stake, parents hope sleeping safe isn't just a pipe dream.
"It's incredibly sad, so I do want to make sure I'm doing everything I can to keep them safe when they sleep," Jerke said.
Cribs for Kids also wants to educate grandparents as well, because they raised kids during an era when it was considered safe to let babies sleep on their stomach.
To learn more about Cribs for Kids, click here