4 things that should never be in your baby’s crib


A safe crib includes a firm mattress and tightly fitted sheet. That’s it.

As you design your baby’s sleep surface, give some attention to what shouldn’t be included: blankets, pillows, toys, bumper pads and other babies. Here’s why:

1) Blankets and pillows

Because an infant doesn’t have the strength to move if his or her mouth and nose become covered, loose blankets and pillows increase the risk of suffocation and SIDS.

2) Toys

Like blankets and pillows, stuffed animals and other toys can cause suffocation or SIDS if they come near a baby’s face.

3) Bumper pads

Many parents use bumper pads to keep their baby from hitting his or her head on crib slats. But the risk associated with suffocation and SIDS from crib bumpers makes them too dangerous. As long as the spaces between slats are no more than 2 3/8 inches, your baby should be fine.

4) Other children

A baby should sleep alone – ALWAYS. Because children move around in their sleep, babies are at risk of being crushed or pushed off the bed. The chance of suffocation or SIDS is also higher when babies share an adult bed with caregivers.

Instead of adding blankets, crib bumpers and toys to your baby’s crib, focus on choosing a firm mattress, tightly fitted sheet and perfect sleep sack. And keep an eye out for these three signs a crib isn’t safe.

To learn more about creating a safe sleep surface for your infant, click here.

Disclaimer: If your baby has a fever or other symptoms, or you have concerns about the growth and development of your child, always seek care with your healthcare provider.

Mother-to-Mother changes lives in the Bootheel



This month, Bootheel Babies & Families is very pleased to feature Melinda Sweeney, Executive Director of the Regional Health Foundation. Melinda has been an active part of Bootheel Babies & Families’ Community Steering Committee for years, and her organization’s Mother-to-Mother program is a current Grantee serving women and babies in Stoddard, Dunklin and Pemiscot counties.

Regional Healthcare Foundation is very proud of its Mother-to-Mother (M2M) program, which offers a hand up…not a hand out… to expecting or parenting young women.

The M2M program began in Dexter in 2002 when a group of very special women worked out of the trunks of their cars to provide mentoring and support to young first-time moms. The primary goal of the program is the prevention of child abuse and neglect.

Today, M2M serves close to 50 young Stoddard County women and their families. M2M moms meet with their mentors, attend social and educational activities, earn “baby bucks” to spend in the Baby Boutique, partake of the food pantry and receive educational and career counseling.  Recently the program has been able to extend its educational and career counseling services to significant others as well.

A young woman is eligible to enroll in the M2M program if she lives in Stoddard County, is expecting a child or already has a child under the age of one, is 24 years old or younger, has or is in the process of earning her high school diploma or HSE certificate and has no legal issues.

M2M’s Multi-Phase Approach

M2M is a multi-phase program with different expectations of the participants in each stage.




As a Missouri Foundation for Health Infant Mortality Reduction Initiative grantee, M2M has been able to offer our Best For Baby educational program to moms through the health departments in Stoddard, Pemiscot, and Dunklin Counties. Our nurse educator offers three sessions: Prenatal Care, Keeping Baby Safe and Healthy and Coping After Baby’s Birth. Because Safe Sleep is a primary focus of the Best for Baby program, participants who complete the Safe Sleep lesson are given a safe sleep kit, and those in Stoddard and Dunklin Counties are given to opportunity to receive pack n plays. They must agree to allow a nurse educator to come to their homes and help set up the pack n plays and evaluate the safety of their babies’ sleep environments.

Mother-to-Mother continues to grow and change as our young moms and their families face new challenges.  Substance abuse in general, and the opioid crisis in particular, have and will continue to negatively impact our community. The Mother-to-Mother staff is looking at providing substance abuse prevention activities as part of our educational activities.

During the past four years, I have seen many M2M “success stories” write themselves. The biggest successes are evidenced by young women who…through their hard work and determination, and a little help from M2M, have nurtured healthy, happy, safe children. Many of these young women have graduated high school and college. They are teachers, nurses, insurance agents, physical therapy assistants, and the list goes on.

Many of these success stories are still “in progress.”  The M2M staff, Teresa, Chris, Rachelle, Nancy, Linda, Sherry and Kellie, are helping to write those stories. I am very proud of them and all the M2M moms and their families.

Want to get involved? Find out how you too can make a difference in the lives of Bootheel babies: Contact Us 

About Melinda:

Melinda Sweeney is the Executive Director of the Regional Healthcare Foundation (RHF) in Dexter, Missouri.  She was originally hired in 2014 as a member of the Mother-to-Mother staff.  Mother-to-Mother is one of two flagship programs at RHF. Melinda is a member of the Bootheel Babies and Families steering committee, and the Mother-to-Mother Program is a past and current IMRI grantee and BBF partner.

Why you should keep your baby’s crib blanket free


Have you ever woken up to realize you’re so tangled in the comforter you can’t move? It takes a few seconds of kicking and turning before you free yourself.

Now imagine you can’t kick or roll over, and the blanket is blocking your nose and mouth. You’re trapped.

This is a very real possibility for an infant who is covered by a blanket during sleep – with the wrong move, he or she cannot breathe. That’s why it’s best to keep blankets out of your baby’s crib.

Blanket-free sleeping may seem impractical during Southeast Missouri winters. After all, you must ensure your baby stays warm. Here are some blanket alternatives to keep your little one toasty and comfortable without increasing his or her risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS):
Sleep sack – This wearable blanket is designed so your infant will not become tangled. When choosing a sleep sack, make sure your baby has plenty of leg room to kick and stretch.
Swaddling – For infants less than two months old, this way of snugly wrapping babies can calm them and promote sleep. Learn more about safe swaddling.
Sleeper – This soft, warm garment – basically a onesie with legs and sleeves – keeps your baby cozy without a blanket.

Other uses for baby blankets

Even though keeping blankets in a crib is not safe, do not get rid of receiving blankets and baby quilts just yet. They are perfectly fine to use for play mats during tummy time or to put on the floor while your baby moves around. Just keep a careful eye on your infant, and move him or her to a safe sleep surface if he or she gets tired.

For other tips on how to ensure your baby sleeps safely, click here.

Disclaimer: If your baby has a fever or other symptoms, or you have concerns about the growth and development of your child, always seek care with your healthcare provider.

5 tried-and-true ways to help your newborn sleep at night

Infants sleep a lot – usually between 16 and 17 hours a day. They also wake frequently, sleeping only around two to four hours at a time. It’s important to find ways to help your baby sleep so that you can get some rest too. Here are a few techniques decades of parents have found successful.

  1. Swaddle your newborn.

Babies are born with a startle reflex that causes them to occasionally jerk awake. Wrapping infants securely in a swaddling blanket or sleep sack can keep them snug and prevent the startle reflex. Learn how to safely swaddle your baby.

  1. Keep daytime naps short.

If your baby spends extra time snoozing during the day, he or she will sleep less at night. Try limiting daytime sleep to around two hours per nap. Wake your infant after the limit, feed him or her and play for a while before the next nap.

  1. Follow a bedtime routine.

A familiar routine about the same time every night will help your baby recognize when it’s time to go to sleep. Help your baby relax with a warm bath, then sing a lullaby or read a story.

  1. Turn on white noise.

Thumps, talking and other sounds can keep a newborn awake. Help drown out noises by turning on white noise in your baby’s room. A crib aquarium, white noise machine or fan placed near – but not inside – your child’s crib should help him or her fall and stay asleep.

  1. Let your baby self-soothe.

Lay your infant on his or her back in a crib while he or she is still slightly awake. This will allow your baby to learn how to fall asleep without you holding him or her. When your baby wakes during the night, wait a few minutes before picking him or her up to see if your infant will fall back asleep on his or her own.

Another way to help your newborn sleep soundly and safely is by following the ABC’S of Safe Sleep. Learn them here: http://www.bootheelbabies.org/safe-sleep.

Always speak with a medical provider if you have questions or concerns about your baby’s health and well-being.


Does secondhand smoke really hurt my baby?

No doubt, you’ve seen posters and billboards explaining how smoking while pregnant places babies at risk. Once a baby is born, the issues with smoking around him or her do not go away. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, secondhand smoke causes tens of thousands of deaths each year. Every time your infant nestles close to a smoker, he or she is exposed to 4,000 chemicals, 50 of which are known to cause cancer. Here is how secondhand smoke affects your baby.

Impairs infants’ breathing

Until three or four months of age, babies do not develop the reflex necessary to breathe through their mouth. Since secondhand smoke can block nasal passages, it is especially dangerous for young infants. Even worse, filaments that keep the respiratory tract clear can become paralyzed by smoke. This means an infant exposed to secondhand smoke will likely have trouble getting enough oxygen, which leads to respiratory infections and an increased risk of SIDS.

Damages babies’ hearts

Multiple studies have proven that smoking around an infant can affect his or her heart rate. Researchers also discovered that high-density lipoproteins (HDL), more commonly known as “good cholesterol,” is lower in smokers’ children.

Decreases brain development

A baby’s brain develops at an amazingly fast pace as he or she discovers more about the world. Smoking around an infant can hinder his or her development. Just as a lack of oxygen due to secondhand smoke blocks the respiratory tract, it has also been shown to harm the brain, particularly the area that controls breathing. As a result, a baby’s risk of SIDS increases with exposure to smoke.

There’s no way to sugarcoat it: Smoking contributes to infant mortality. If you are a smoker but do not want your child to be exposed to harmful chemicals from cigarettes, visit our Resource Guide to find organizations with smoking cessation programs. No-cost smoking workshops may be available in your area.

Always speak with a medical provider if you have questions or concerns about your baby’s health and well-being.

4 tips for tummy time

Just like adults, infants need exercise to grow stronger. The best way for your baby to develop the muscle strength and motor skills needed for sitting and crawling is by spending time on his or her stomach every day. To make the most of your infant’s tummy time, keep these tips in mind.

  1. Start with short sessions.

Beginning the day your baby comes home from the hospital, place your child on his or her stomach for three to five minutes two or three times a day. As your baby grows, gradually increase the length of each session. By the time your baby is three to four months old, have 20 to 30 minutes of tummy time each day.

  1. Place your baby on a safe surface.

Lay your infant on a solid surface where he or she cannot roll off. A blanket on the floor is ideal. Do not place your baby on a couch or chair.

  1. Make tummy time fun.

Your baby can become bored and fussy if left alone on the floor. Set out a rattle, toys or a baby mirror, and talk to your child as he or she plays.

  1. Ensure you are both fully awake.

To keep your baby safe during tummy time, DO NOT allow him or her to fall asleep. Snoozing on the stomach increases your baby’s risk of suffocation and SIDS. If your baby appears sleepy, place him or her on the back in a crib and try tummy time later – when you are both alert.

To learn more about how to keep your baby safe during sleep, visit www.bootheelbabies.org/safe-sleep.

Always speak with a medical provider if you have questions or concerns about your baby’s health and well-being.

Preparing for your baby: Crib safety

When you are expecting a baby, it’s an exciting time. There are lots of things to think about – including where your child will sleep. Will they have their own room? Will they share a room with a sibling? Will they sleep in your room for a time?

Regardless of their surroundings, it’s important that your infant have a safe sleeping surface and environment. Remember the ABC’s of Safe Sleep: Babies sleep best Alone, on their Back, in a Crib or other Safe Sleep Surface. Whether you use a crib, bassinet or pack n’ play, here are a few simple tips on keeping your baby safe at night and at nap time.

1. Assemble the crib, bassinet or pack n’ plan according to the manufacturer’s directions. Don’t use any mattress other than the one provided.

2. Don’t use any crib older than 10 years, or one that has broken slats or has been modified. Drop-side cribs and older cribs had different safety standards than cribs manufactured today. And infants can strangle if their bodies pass through gaps between slats or loose components.

3. Never place a crib, bassinet or pack n’ play near a window that has blinds or cords. Babies explore the world with their hands, and pulling on cords can be dangerous for them.

4. Keep his or her sleep environment free of toys, pillows, blankets or crib bumpers. Any of these can shift while your baby sleeps, and cover your infant’s face, leading to risk of suffocation. Instead of blankets, use a sleep sack to keep your baby warm in the winter.

5. Make sure mobiles are safely out of reach. Babies love to look at mobiles, but their cute, dangling toys can be a choking hazard. Make sure they are high enough above the crib that your baby can’t reach them.

6. Make sure there are no gaps wider than two fingers between the sides of the crib and the mattress. Little faces can get trapped there, and be at risk of suffocation.

7. Never co-sleep with your baby. Babies should always sleep alone in a crib, pack n play or other safe sleep surface. This includes not sleeping with parents, siblings and all others.

Babies spend much of their time sleeping, so their nursery should be the safest room in the house – no matter what room that might be. Read more about safe sleep for babies at www.bootheelbabies.org/safe-sleep

Source: United States Consumer Product Safety Commission, www.cpsc.gov

Choking Hazards for Children

Babies begin exploring the world first with their eyes, then with their hands. Often, their little hands go straight to their mouths. It’s a wonder to watch. But, as soon as your baby can pick up things with their fingers, they are at risk of putting things in their mouths that can cause them to choke. Choking is a real risk for babies and young children – in fact, one child dies from choking on food every five days in the U.S.*

The most common choking hazard is food. As soon as babies get their front teeth, they can bite pieces of food. But they can’t chew it well until they get molars, when they’re a little older. It’s important to also watch small toys and household items. Remember, the size of a young child’s trachea (windpipe) is about the size of a drinking straw in diameter. They can choke very easily. Below are some common-sense tips to help prevent choking in babies and children.

1. Puree or mash food. If you don’t use prepared baby food, be sure to mash or puree it until it’s soft enough for your baby to swallow easily, and without chewing.

2. Feed babies with small bites of food. Once you begin feeding your baby regular food, be sure that the pieces are no larger than a half inch. Soft-cook veggies before cutting them up so they’re easier for babies to chew, swallow and digest.

3. Choose snack foods carefully. Babies and toddlers aren’t ready for popcorn, nuts, gum, hard candy or marshmallows until they’re at least four, according to babycenter.com.

4. Make sure babies and toddlers have calm, unhurried meal times. Seat babies upright in a high chair at meal times, and make sure they have plenty of time to eat. Rushing can lead to choking. Also have juice, milk or water available for them to take sips between bites. This will encourage them to swallow and not hold food in their mouths, which can be a choking hazard.

5. Pay close attention to toys and household items like coins, buttons, marker caps or jewelry. If an item is small enough to fit inside a toilet paper tube, it’s a choking hazard for a child. Christmas gifts can carry risk, so make sure they are age-appropriate for your baby or toddler.

6. Keep mobiles out of reach. Babies love mobiles – they are visually appealing, and help develop vision. But they can be a choking hazard. Keep them out of reach of little hands. With care and attention, you can reduce your baby’s choking risk. If your baby does choke, call 911 immediately.

*New York State Department of Health

Fighting Infant Mortality in Southeast Missouri

September is National Infant Mortality Awareness Month

Sikeston, Mo. – Babies born in under-developed countries like Cuba, Romania, Tonga or Botswana have a better chance of surviving their first year of life than those born in Missouri’s Bootheel.

That’s the basis of an ongoing outreach initiative aimed at reducing infant death in six Bootheel counties, which represent some of the worst infant mortality rates (IMR) in the U.S. In recognition of September as Infant Mortality Awareness Month, Bootheel Babies & Families has additional outreach and education efforts planned to help spread awareness about the Bootheel’s high IMR and the fight to save babies’ lives.

“The majority of infant deaths in the Bootheel – about 50% in 2016 – are attributable to unsafe sleep habits such as bed sharing and suffocation,” said Robert Turner, Project Management Coordinator for Bootheel Babies & Families. “Much of our outreach efforts over the past year have focused on safe sleep education for parents and caregivers, emphasizing the ABC’S of Safe Sleep: Babies sleep best Alone, on their Back, in a Crib or other Safe sleep surface.”

Over the past eight years, 135 babies have died in Dunklin, New Madrid, Mississippi, Pemiscot, Stoddard and Scott counties, where the IMR ranges as high as 11.7. “When compared with Missouri’s average IMR of 6.5, or the national rate of 5.9, this is truly devastating for the Bootheel,” said Turner. “Infant mortality has a longlasting affect on not just the families suffering the loss, but schools, employers and communities as a whole. It’s a key indicator of overall population health.”

Bootheel Babies & Families is led by a Steering Committee made up of community stakeholders, partner organizations, medical professionals, educators, parents, caregivers and others committed to reducing the Bootheel’s IMR. The Steering Committee meets monthly to collaborate on outreach efforts. “Our approach to combatting infant mortality in the Bootheel has been unique. This isn’t one non-profit or one community organization committed to a cause, it’s multiple, along with individuals who are passionate about decreasing infant mortality, all collaborating to make a true difference,” said Sarah Ezell, Chair of the Bootheel Babies & Families Steering Committee.

“Everyone in the Bootheel is affected in some way by infant mortality, and we encourage anyone with an interest to join the Steering Committee – from community leaders and caregivers to law enforcement to religious organizations,” said Ezell. “And for those unable to attend Steering Committee meetings, there are many other outreach opportunities available. There’s something everyone can do, and even small things make a big difference when it comes to saving babies’ lives.”

To learn more about Bootheel Babies & Families, the Steering Committee or Infant Mortality Awareness Month, visit www.BootheelBabies.org.

4 common questions parents ask about newborns’ sleep habits

Anyone who has spent time around infants knows this: They rarely sleep through the night. Babies have shorter sleep cycles than adults, and they fall asleep as easily during the day as at nighttime. If you’re curious about what to expect when your baby arrives or you’re not sure if your newborn’s sleep habits are typical, here are the answers to some common sleep-related questions.

No. 1 – How much should my baby sleep?

Infants sleep A LOT. In fact, they spend more time sleeping compared to other activities. The average newborn sleeps around 16 to 18 hours a day. As they grow, their need for sleep gradually decreases to 11 to 14 hours by age one, although every baby is different.

No. 2 – When will my baby start sleeping through the night?

Until your infant is four to six months old, he or she will probably sleep only two to four hours at a time. Around four months of age, your baby should begin sleeping for longer periods but will most likely not sleep through the night until the six-month mark.

No. 3 – Should I put my baby on a sleep schedule?

Establishing a bedtime routine can help your infant fall asleep easier and stay asleep longer. Beginning about six to eight weeks of age, help your baby relax before bed with a warm bath, lullaby or story.

No. 4 – What if my baby wakes during the night?

Babies wake up for a lot of reasons – hunger, a dirty diaper, too hot or too cold. React just as you would during the day. If your baby is simply fussy, try these techniques to coax him or her back to sleep. If you are concerned you may not hear your newborn during the night, place a crib or bassinet in your room so that you are close by. Do not share a bed with your infant as he or she could fall off or suffocate.

To help your newborn sleep safely and soundly, follow the ABC’S of Safe Sleep. Visit http://www.bootheelbabies.org/safe-sleep/ for the details.

Always speak with a medical provider if you have questions or concerns about your baby’s health and well-being.