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

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

Source: United States Consumer Product Safety Commission,

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

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

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 for the details.

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

How infant mortality affects you

Since 2009, 135 babies have died in six Bootheel counties in Missouri. That’s 135 children who never got to celebrate their first birthday or attend their first day of kindergarten. Hundreds of families will forever have a hole in their lives, and entire communities are affected by the impact of infant mortality – including YOU.

Even if you do not have children or your children are grown, a high infant mortality rate affects the entire community. Here are three reasons you should care:

  • Community health: Infants’ health reflects the overall health of a community. A high infant mortality rate is often a sign of inadequate access to healthcare or poor health throughout a community.
  • Employers: A high infant mortality rate and premature births result in 10 times higher healthcare costs for employers compared to uncomplicated births. Further, businesses will potentially have a decreased workforce in the future due to infant mortality.
  • Taxpayers: The economic impact of infant mortality directly affects your wallet. More than $600 billion in taxes have been spent for services related to infant mortality.

You can make a difference for infants in your community by helping us spread the word about infant mortality and safe sleep habits. Learn more about how you can help:

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.

The No. 1 thing you can do to reduce your infant’s risk of SIDS

The possibility of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is one of the scariest things a parent can face. SIDS usually occurs during sleep, and experts aren’t exactly sure what causes it. Fortunately, they have been able to identify risk factors, meaning you can do more than just keep your fingers crossed.

The best way to reduce your baby’s risk of SIDS is by creating a safe sleep environment. Here’s how to do that:

  1. Select a safe crib with a firm mattress. Cribs manufactured after 2011 comply with strict federal safety standards, making them more sturdy and durable. Check out this blog post to learn about three signs a crib is unsafe.
  2. Use only a fitted sheet. Although it’s tempting to decorate your infant’s crib with cute bumper pads, blankets and stuffed animals, these are suffocation hazards.
  3. Make sure your baby sleeps in his or her own crib. Infants can fall off couches, chairs or regular beds. And an adult may roll on top of an infant during sleep, so it’s best to put your baby to sleep in his or her own crib.
  4. Put your baby to bed on his or her back. Choking is more likely if a baby sleeps on his or her tummy. Sleeping infants breathe easier on their backs.

To learn more about safe sleep habits that reduce your infant’s risk of SIDS, visit

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.

How soon should I see a doctor after learning I’m pregnant?

It’s critical to see a healthcare provider throughout your pregnancy, both for the safety of you and your unborn child. Prenatal care offers not just medical care, but also education and support for pregnancy and childbirth.

Most providers schedule your first visit around eight weeks of pregnancy. As soon as you suspect you’re pregnant, call your obstetrician/gynecologist to set up your appointment.

At this initial visit, you can expect to discuss your due date, your health history and any pregnancy risk factors you may face. This is a good time to ask your provider questions about your pregnancy, so jot down anything you’d like to ask and take the list with you to your appointment.

If you need help locating a provider, ask your local health department for resources or visit our online Bootheel Community Resource Guide:

Always talk to your medical provider if you have questions about pregnancy or your health.

Is my baby at risk for heat stroke?

July and August are among the hottest months of the year, and your baby is especially vulnerable to the dangers of overheating – including suffering from heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Heat exhaustion is a milder form of heat stroke. Symptoms include unusual tiredness or thirstiness, as well as cool, moist skin. Leg and stomach cramps can also occur. Heat stroke is more severe and can include a temperature of 103 degrees or higher with no sweating, hot/red/dry skin, rapid pulse, vomiting, restlessness, lethargy and unconsciousness.

If your baby exhibits any of the symptoms of heat stroke, call 911. While waiting for an ambulance, move your child to a cool area and undress him or her. Sponging your child down with cool water can help decrease his or her body temperature. A fan may also help.

Avoiding placing your child at risk of heat exhaustion or heat stroke by:

  • Dressing him or her in loose, lightweight clothing
  • Staying in the shade when you’re outside
  • Checking his or her temperature during car rides, to ensure no overheating
  • Keeping your baby well hydrated
  • Staying indoors when temperatures are very high
  • Never leaving your child in a parked car

Always talk to your medical provider if you have questions about heat stroke or your baby’s health and wellbeing.