May 23, 2014 at 1:00 am

OUR EDITORIAL

Editorial: Saving Detroit, one baby at a time

More work is needed to help reduce infant mortality rates; preventing sleep deaths is an important piece

Detroit is plagued by a nation-leading infant mortality rate. (Elizabeth Conley / The Detroit News)

Life is precious — especially that of a fragile infant. And while saving a baby’s life is always a top priority, that goal has become more heightened with the reality that Detroit’s infant mortality rate rivals that of Third World countries. The statistics are grim.

Infant mortality is the No. 1 killer of Detroit children. In 2011, 130 of the 208 Detroit children who died had not reached their first birthday.

According to the most recent data from the Michigan Department of Community Health, 2,300 Detroit babies died before turning 1-year-old between the years 2000 and 2011.

Among those deaths were infants who died from unsafe sleeping conditions. The tragic fact is that these deaths are completely avoidable with parental education.

With this in mind, the Legislature has approved a law that requires hospitals and health professionals to provide parents with information and materials regarding infant safe sleep practices following the birth of a child. The materials must also explain the risks associated with unsafe sleep environments.

Reducing these types of deaths is only a part of the overall effort to address infant mortality rates. But because sleep deaths are so preventable, the numbers are expected to decrease if parents just do a little reading.

The Michigan Department of Human Services reports that each year in the state nearly 150 infants die as a result of unsafe sleep environments.

Some of the dangerous practices that have resulted in babies dying include sleeping with parents and siblings. Babies also should not sleep with pets or on a couch, pillow or anything soft. Another risky action is to fill cribs with blankets and toys. Doing any of these puts infants at risk of suffocation.

Basically, parents should put babies on their backs in a crib of their own. State officials say parents should also use a firm mattress with a tightly fitted sheet.

The material being distributed to parents outlines these simple preventive measures. As elementary as they are, too many parents have failed to heed them.

A spokesman for Rep. Gail Haines, R-Lake Angelus, the primary sponsor of the safe sleep legislation, says the information for parents already is in hospitals and most medical facilities are distributing it to new parents.

Consequently, since the material already has been prepared by the Michigan Departments of Community Health and Human Services, the legislation wouldn’t increase costs.

In explaining the need for the law, Haines said, “Many families are simply repeating the sleep practices they were raised on, without knowing the dangers that could be associated with those practices.”

Trying to educate the public is a worthwhile objective, even if only one baby’s life is saved.

But infant lives will be protected only if parents read and follow the advice. No law can force that.