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A group of black sorority sisters from around Arkansas has formed to combat infant mortality in the state, which occurs at a rate almost three times the national average, the Arkansas Department of Health said Wednesday.

The new group, called Sisters United, is composed of members of Alpha Kappa Alpha, Delta Sigma Theta, Zeta Phi Beta and Sigma Gamma Rho, and has joined with the Arkansas Infant and Child Death Review Program and the Health Department to help prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome by educating Arkansans on safe sleep practices for babies, the department said in a statement.

“We will be training the trainers, so-to-speak,” said Michelle R. Smith, director of the Health Department’s Office of Minority Health and Health Disparities, of the department’s contribution to the program. “We will be teaching young women from these sororities about the latest research, so that they can take that message to young women in their own communities."

SIDS is the sudden, unexplained death of an infant, which is defined as a baby less than a year old, the Health Department said. The syndrome is the most common cause of death among babies ages 1 month to 1 year, the department added.

Additionally, black babies die from SIDS at a rate twice that of white babies, the department said.

To reduce infant mortality, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents and caretakers put babies to sleep on their backs; use cribs up to safety standards with firm mattresses and tightly fitted sheets; share a bedroom, but not a bed, with the baby; remove from the crib soft items that could pose suffocation hazards; offer a pacifier; and to keep baby cool at bedtime.

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