A new program at West Coast General Hospital (WCGH) is helping new and expecting parents in Port Alberni become more educated on safe sleep practices for their newborns.
Island Health and Nuu-chah-nulth nursing have joined forces to introduce the Baby Bed program for new parents in the Valley and West Coast communities.
Baby beds are self-contained sleeping containers with solid walls, a firm mattress and a fitted sheet that allows an infant to sleep safely.
The beds were first introduced in Finland more than 70 years ago where they continue to educate and empower new parents about a healthy and safe sleeping environment for their babies.
The baby beds have lowered Finland’s infant mortality rate.
Finland’s rate is now one of the lowest in the world at 1.8 per 1,000 babies as compared to Canada at 3.0 per 1,000 and Vancouver Island, 3.9 per 1,000.
Beginning on Aug. 1, Port Alberni is the second community in British Columbia to have access to the Baby Bed Program. Cowichan Valley introduced the program about a year and a half ago.
“It’s not just the bed,” said Dr. Charmaine Enns, a medical health officer at Island Health. “It also gives opportunities to have [safe sleep] conversations that are so empowering for moms and families.”
Enns said sometimes parents are misconceived into thinking sleeping with their baby in their own bed is safe.
“On Vancouver Island we find, although the numbers are small…our concerns [for infant mortality] are those events that could have been prevented,” Enns said. She sits on the Island’s Infant Mortality Review Committee.
“The most common reason is oftentimes babies are put to sleep in an adult bed and so they’re either put to bed propped up on a pillow or there’s too many blankets around them.”
She said babies should sleep in their own, uncluttered space with only a thin blanket on them in a tobacco-free environment.
“I think sometimes we naively think, well it’s just this one time, it’s not going to matter,” Enns said. “We want to be able to empower parents that every sleep time counts.”
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This initiative was made possible through support from the West Coast General Hospital Foundation and Auxiliary.
The WCGH Foundation has donated upwards of $16,000 to the project so far and the auxiliary has contributed an additional $10,000.
“A lot of moms seem really excited about it,” said Kristy Eyford, an expecting mother of a baby boy. “The stuff you get in them is really helpful…and you get a lot of great information about safe sleeping as well.”
Along with the beds, families are provided with baby-friendly items including diapers, wipes, a baby thermometer, a bib, hat, socks and pajamas among other items.
Eyford, who was told about the baby beds by a public health nurse in her baby group, said she co-slept with her first child. Now having received more education about safe sleep she is excited to provide her newborn with a secure space for sleeping.
“I can put [the baby bed] on my bed and nap with him and know that he’s safe and protected,” Eyford said.
The beds can also help when travelling with a baby.
“When you go to friends and family they don’t always have the proper sleeping materials for babies, so it’s nice to know you can carry that around with you and have a place for your baby to sleep,” Eyford said.
A total of 300 baby beds were made available for Port Alberni and West Coast communities—the projected number of births over the next year. “We’re hoping this will go bigger and that we’re able to get more funding sources,” said Christel Fong, public health nurse. “Right now we’re only funded for the year for Port Alberni, West Coast, Tofino, Ucluelet and Ahousaht.”
More info about baby beds can be found by calling the Port Alberni Health Unit at 250-731-1315.