Handle with care
Sunshine Coast paediatric nurse Roni Cole has always had an interest in the health and safety of children, and now she’s on a mission to reduce sudden and unexpected death in infants by conducting a state-wide survey that ultimately aims to save lives.
Losing a child is every parent’s worst nightmare, especially when their death could have been avoided. It’s the reason local nurse Roni Cole is so driven to determine what care practices Queensland parents currently adopt for their infants to enable her to provide them with the best safety guidelines to ensure they don’t become one of the statistics.
“Around 115 babies under the age of 12 months die suddenly and unexpectedly each year in Australia, which is about two babies every week,” says Roni.
“We know that 95 per cent of infants who have passed away suddenly and unexpectedly have one or more risk factors associated with their death. We know that the way infants are cared for and their sleeping environments influence their risk of dying.
Unfortunately, Queensland has one of the highest rates of unexplained infant death of all states and territories.”
Thanks to a Wishlist-funded Higher Degree grant worth $65,700, as part of her PhD, Roni will investigate how Queensland mothers are choosing to care for their babies, through a state-wide survey, using this critical data to deliver clear guidelines on best practice for parents, carers and health workers.
Last month, the survey was sent to all Queensland families who had a baby born during the month of April this year. Families were asked a comprehensive list of questions about how they choose to care for their baby, including their sleeping arrangements.
“We know that sudden and unexpected death in infancy is the leading cause of our post neonatal mortality in Australia, and babies between two and four months are in the highest risk category,” says Roni.
“By that stage parents have their rituals in place at home and that is why I am focusing on this particular age group – around three months old.”
The data collected from this survey will contribute important information to help better understand the circumstances and ways in which babies who develop, grow and thrive are cared for by their families.
The dangers of co-sleeping will be one of the vital areas of Roni’s research. As a nurse, Roni says a number of mums often reported their usual practice at home is to bed-share with their young children. In fact, according to a 2015 study in Victoria, 45 per cent of mothers indicated they bed-shared with their infants.
“When their infants are unwell, needing hospital admission for treatment or overnight observation, mothers do sometimes request that their baby sleep in a bed with them rather than the provided cot,” says Roni.
“This can create concern among nursing staff as they endeavour to ensure the infant remains in a safe sleeping environment during the hospital admission.”
With an end-goal of reducing the risk of SIDS and fatal sleeping accidents in Queensland, Roni’s research will also form important information for new parents.
“I’ve always been interested in the way we care for our babies and why we have certain recommendations,” says Roni.
“It has been 15 years since any research has been done in Queensland, specifically looking at infant care practices and sleeping routines, and a lot has changed in that time.
“We have lots of information about infants who have died suddenly and unexpectedly and we know lots of information around why they have died, but we don’t know about the environments of those infants who are well and thriving, so we can’t contextualise it to discover whether the prevalence of certain environments are having an influence or not.
“I am looking at everything – feeding practices, whether they have started solids yet, whether they use a dummy, the way the infants are wrapped when they are sleeping, whether they have sleeping monitors, whether they use teething devices such as the amber necklaces, whether they go to sleep wearing a beanie or head band, whether there are any soft toys in the cot – the list goes on.”
The first Reduce the Risk campaign was launched almost 30 years ago and since then the Australian Bureau of Statistics has reported the number of babies who died suddenly and unexpectedly decreased significantly.
The initial decline in deaths coincided immediately with the safe sleeping campaign,” says Roni.
“Just prior to the Reduce the Risk campaign, it was discovered that infants who were placed on their tummy were at a higher risk of dying. Since the first safe sleeping messages, which included putting babies on their backs to sleep, we have had an 80 per cent reduction in sudden and unexpected infant death.
“Lots of research has been done since then but we now know that due to a baby’s anatomy, they have a natural protective factor when they are on their back, so when they regurgitate they can easily swallow it rather than it going into their lungs, so even when a baby is diagnosed with reflux, the recommendation is that they still sleep on their back.”
Thanks to this passionate nurse and the financial backing from Wishlist, there is no doubt this innovative research will have a positive effect on the safety of infants for generations to come.
“The important thing we are trying to do is make sure families have access to the recommendations, and they know the facts and they can make their choices based on that.”
For further information on safe sleeping recommendations for your baby or infant go to rednose.com.au