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"Mass Media's" Role in SIDS Education

From: Debbie Gemmill Mom2127@AOL.COM (6/10/98)

Polish translation from Mary Orban


It's hard, even after 16 years, to continue to watch the news shows which promise to give us "the latest cause of SIDS." However, it would be worse if NO research was being done and NO news reports were given. However sensational the media may be, it can only continue to present "information" because some research is continuing.

I remember, as if it was last week, how difficult it was to listen to this stuff. "NOT US" I remember saying. We didn't fit into anything. But we must have fit somewhere....and for that reason I am glad that research continues. I want to know why; I want no more babies to die.

Don't be mad at the mad at the people who throw up their hands and say 'There is no reason". As far as we know, there are most likely many factors which cause babies to die of SIDS...that's why it's classified as a 'Syndrome". Little by little we may find the answers.

Time and patience are at direct odds with grief--I know it as well as anyone. But I'd like to put in a good word for the researchers who I believe are working to find an answer. I don't think they are out to hurt parents who have lost babies. And I would guess that they are not thrilled with the media representation in general.

Debbie Gemmill


It might be of interest that two recent articles in the medical literature confirm/agree with your experience. One was from the USA and the other from England. Both were surveys asking parents of infants where they obtained information about SIDS risk-reduction or "prevention". Less than 25% of parents cited the doctor as a source of information in one study and this figure was less than 10% in the other. In both studies the "mass media" won easily as being the source of SIDS-related information for most parents.

Even when parents cite medical sources for their information it is often not the doctor. My impression is that parents who get SIDS risk-reduction information from medical sources usually get it from hospitals that have an active program to distribute this information at the time of discharge from the neonatal nursery. In these programs, what counseling there is usually done by nurses. Another potential source/opportunity for SIDS risk-reduction counseling that is, I think, very under-utilized is during prenatal care with the obstetrician. Anyway, a great deal more could be done to improve the dissemination of correct information by health care professionals. But, for the moment, people are getting it from the mass media and the quality is, for the most part, just what one would expect.

John L. Carroll, M.D.
The Johns Hopkins Children's Center
Baltimore, MD

Here are several references that refer to the issue of where parents get
their information:

AU Gibson E. Cullen JA. Spinner S. Rankin K. Spitzer AR.
IN Thomas Jefferson University, Department of Pediatrics, Philadelphia, PA
19107, USA.
TI Infant sleep position following new AAP guidelines. American Academy of
SO Pediatrics. 96(1 Pt 1):69-72, 1995 Jul.
AB OBJECTIVE. This report examines the response of families to the American
Academy of Pediatrics June 1992 recommendation that healthy term infants
be put to sleep on their back or side to decrease the risk of sudden
infant death syndrome. Parents at two clinics and private practices
were interviewed to ascertain sleep position practices. METHODS. Parents of
infants from 1 to 6 months of age who were in the waiting room for a
well-child visit were eligible for study. A total of 760 interviews were
conducted using a closed-ended questionnaire. Parents were asked about
sleep position, positional changes during sleep, and factors that
influenced their decision to position their infant prone, side, or
supine. Interviews were conducted from September 1993 through April 1994.
This interval was divided into two equal, 4-month time intervals. Sleep
practices were compared during the first and second time periods.
Differences between practice and clinic groups were measured. Groups were
compared using the chi-square test, with results considered significant at
P <.05. results. the number of infants placed side or supine for sleep
increased significantly since the inception of the study, from 38.1% to
59.1%. Despite this increase, parents reported that the impetus for
changing position came from family or the *media*, rather than from health
professionals. Initially, the proportion of infants in private practices
placed side or supine was greater than that of clinic patients. That
difference disappeared by the end of the study. Prone positioning continued
to be more prevalent in the 3- to 6-month-old infants than in the 1- to
3-month-old group. The majority of infants at all ages awoke in the same
position that they were put to sleep. CONCLUSIONS. Side and supine
positioning for sleep increased in all socioeconomic groups. A small number
of infants placed side or supine for sleep are found prone on awakening.
Health professionals need to increase their role in providing sleep
position guidance. As the proportion of the population positioning their
infants side or supine for sleep increases, it should be possible to
examine the effect on the sudden infant death syndrome rate.

AU Hiley CM. Morley C.
IN Department of Paediatrics, Addenbrookes Hospital, Cambridge.
TI What do mothers remember about the 'back to sleep' campaign?.
SO Archives of Disease in Childhood. 73(6):496-7, 1995 Dec.
AB A campaign was launched by the Department of Health late in 1991 to advise
mothers how to reduce the risk of cot death. OBJECTIVE--To investigate
whether mothers remember receiving this advice, their sources of
information, and the advice they were given. SETTING--Questionnaires filled
in by mothers of babies born in three maternity units in East Anglia.
METHOD--150 mothers of full term babies born throughout 1992 were enrolled.
All of them should have received the information. They were sent a
questionnaire when their baby was 6 months old. RESULTS--399 (89%)
questionnaires were analysable. Sources of information were: *television*,
72%; *magazines*, 59%; midwives, 55%; health visitors, 48%; and *doctors*,
11%. 23% said they received no advice from a health professional about
reducing the risk of cot death. Doctors, who had all been informed by the
Department of Health, were surprisingly poor at passing on the information.
Advice on sleeping position was remembered by 72%, overheating by 60%, and
smoking by 35%. Problems in following the advice were reported by only 5%
of mothers. CONCLUSIONS--The *media* was most influential in spreading the
new advice. Basic infant care advice is not the preserve of doctors.

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