Safe sleep is a community responsibility

November 17, 2020


Although October is recognized as Safe Sleep month, parents, grandparents, and communities need to talk about the importance of safe sleep every month and throughout the year. 

Sudden unexpected infant death (SUID) is a term used to describe the sudden and unexpected death of an infant less than 1-year-old in which the cause was not obvious before investigation. These deaths often happen during sleep or in the infant’s sleep area.

Sudden unexpected infant deaths include sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), accidental suffocation in a sleeping environment, and other deaths from unknown causes.

The three commonly reported types of SUID include the following:

  • Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
  • Unknown cause.
  • Accidental suffocation and strangulation in bed.

Safe sleep practices can help protect babies from SIDS, accidental suffocation and strangulation. Christal Garcia, a teen mom in high school, single parent throughout adulthood and now proud involved grandmother, wasn’t familiar with safe sleep when she was raising her kids. For Christal, being closer in age to her kids has made having these conversations easier. She wants every parent and grandparent to feel this comfortable, too.

Like any parent or grandparent, Christal is concerned about safety for her own family members but she is also working to keep all kids safe in her role as the Community and Equity Program Specialist on the Violence and Injury Prevention team at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE).

Spreading awareness about safe sleep

As Christal remembers, no one talked about safe sleep back in the 1990s. Christal recalls cribs being full of items like stuffed animals that could have caused accidental suffocation. The first Safe to Sleep campaign (formerly known as the Back to Sleep campaign) to bring public attention to SIDS and to educate caregivers on ways to reduce SIDS risks wasn’t introduced until 1994. 

It wasn’t until Christal began working in child fatality prevention at CDPHE that she first learned about the importance of safe sleep. Now being more knowledgeable about safe sleep and remaining intentional about staying up to date with the latest safe sleep recommendations, Christal sees it as her responsibility to spread awareness as even teaching just one person at a time can save an infant’s life.

“We assume that parents and grandparents know and understand what it means for a baby to sleep safely and that assumption can be dangerous,” said Christal. She recalls her daughter’s experience of being discharged from the hospital after having her second baby. Christal’s daughter received a packet with safe sleep information and Christal felt upset because the nurse didn’t go over the packet with her daughter to ensure that she understood the importance of safe sleep. 

When it comes to up-to-date safe sleep recommendations, there are many misleading examples in photos and in-store displays, further confusing parents and communities. Christal recalls shopping in a retail store to prepare for the arrival of her first grandson. She noticed a crib display that was full of items considered dangerous to a sleeping infant. “What if parents or family members mimicked that display to create a sleeping space for their child? The child would have been in danger and at risk of SUIDS,” said Christal. 

Standing firm in her commitment to educating others about safe sleep, Christal approached the manager of the store and educated that manager about infant safe sleep. She talked with the manager about possible harm and fatality risks to babies due to the items in the crib. The manager thanked Christal, immediately made changes throughout the store to display proper safe sleep practices and committed to educating his staff about safe sleep.

Culture and safe sleep practices

Christal, a Chicana woman, says that trying to teach family members and others who aren’t familiar with safe sleep about the importance of it can sometimes feel like a culture shock/shift because the family has already become comfortable with what they have always done. In the Chicana culture, grandmothers make blankets and give them to expecting parents as baby gifts. This is an important tradition, Christal agrees, however, parents need to keep in mind that their baby should not sleep with a blanket, even when the blanket is received as a meaningful gift.

Christal recalls having conversations with her own mother about solely utilizing a fitted sheet or safe sleep sack when putting her grandchild to sleep. “It can be difficult to encourage elders to do things in a different way than they have always known, but it is important, especially when the change can result in the safety and well-being of a child,” said Christal. Christal says baby showers can also be a challenge for many parents. “Although you cannot control what people buy and provide you with at a baby shower, parents should feel confident in making the choice not to use what isn’t safe for their baby,” said Christal.

Safe sleep in underserved communities

The rates of SIDS and accidental suffocation are two to three times greater among black and brown infants. SUID rates per 100,000 live births for American Indian/Alaska Native (215.8) and non-Hispanic black infants (186.5) were more than twice those of non-Hispanic white infants (85.4). SUID rates per 100,000 live births were lowest among Hispanic (53.8) and Asian/Pacific Islander infants (33.5). 

In Christal’s current role she is writing up prevention recommendations related to safe sleep. One recommendation suggests strategically increasing black and brown health care providers, doula’s and community health workers amongst organizations across the state as they can share experiences with families of color in a more relative way.

Families are strengthened when they have access to resources and information that helps to keep them safe and thriving, such as education about safe sleep. Strengthening families helps to prevent child abuse, neglect and fatalities. Christal knows her own family was strengthened by her efforts to disrupt the norm of not discussing safe sleep, so she has made it a priority to do the same for others. Initially, her kids thought that she was crossing the line between work and home too much when advocating for safe sleep practices to be incorporated into the lives of her grandchildren, but she worked through that challenge by remaining focused on the goal of helping her family - and other families - understand the importance of safe sleep.

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“Even when I've been told that it’s none of my business, I made it my business – whether the child was my grandchild or the child of a family friend. Safe sleep is a community responsibility.”

Christal Garcia, Community and Equity Program Specialist, CDPHE

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Learn more about safe sleep

Babies should sleep alone, on their back and in a crib. Visit our safe sleep page for more resources and tips to talk about safe sleep with anyone caring for your baby, including grandparents, co-parents, family members, friends and child care providers.


The Colorado Department of Human Services CO4Kids campaign encourages all Coloradans to strengthen families and communities. If you know of an organization or individual working to strengthen Colorado families and communities that would like to be highlighted, please reach out to Dianna Robinson.

To learn about the signs of child abuse and neglect and for information about how to become a foster or adoptive parent, visit CO4Kids.org. Call 844-CO-4-Kids to report concerns about child abuse and neglect. If a child or teen is in immediate danger, dial 9-1-1.

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