DANVILLE, Ill. | Soft blankets might sound nice to keep newborn babies warm and cozy, but hospitals say baby blankets have to go for safety's sake.
Provena United Samaritans Medical Center in Danville has already replaced baby blankets with blanket-like sleep sacks to keep infants warm, and Urbana's two hospitals, Provena Covenant Medical Center and Carle Foundation Hospital, plan to start doing the same within the next month, hospital officials say.
Bedding, stuffed toys and bumper pads in cribs can be suffocation hazards for babies, and even swaddled infants can wiggle out of their blankets or pull blankets into their faces.
The sleep sacks zip up and have two "wings" on the side that wrap around the baby's arms — plus infants can't kick them off — said Sue Brown, director of obstetrics at United Samaritans.
And they come in two sizes, which is nice, said Lisa Siegwald, nurse manager of the mother-baby unit at Carle.
"The really small babies, you're not wrapping them in the generic-size blanket," she added.
The change is intended to help reduce the chance of sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS, hospitals say.
SIDS is the sudden death of an infant less than a year old that can't be explained after an investigation, including an autopsy, death scene examination and review of clinical history.
SIDS has declined dramatically since the American Academy of Pediatrics began recommending in 1992 that babies be placed on their backs for safest sleeping, but sleep-related deaths from other causes such as suffocation, entrapment and asphyxia have increased, the academy said in its 2011 expanded guidelines for safe infant sleep and SIDS reduction.
United Samaritans started using the sleep sacks in November, and parents love them, Brown said.
"They think they're cute," she added.
While newborns are watched by nurses at the hospital, babies can also be outside a nurse's watchful eye and rooming in with their parents. And Brown said it can be surprising to see how often parents will put an extra blanket on their babies or place a stuffed animal in the crib.
"We reinforce these are things that can be a danger to your child," she said.
The sleep sacks are for in-hospital use only at United Samaritans, but some parents have taken them home, Brown said.
"We have had some disappear in some suitcases," she added. "Everybody wants the first thing that touches their baby's skin."
Covenant plans to provide free sleep sacks for parents to take home, pink for girls, blue for boys, as well as provide them for hospital use, said Carole Halverson, director of maternal child health services at that hospital.
But using them first at the hospital will be one way for the hospital staff to help teach parents about safe sleep for infants, she said.
"It's really to model the right way to do things while they're here," Halverson said.
Carle's sleep sacks will also be in-hospital use only, but they're available in the hospital gift shop for parents to purchase, Siegwald said.
Carle has been providing blankets that are the right size and thickness to safely swaddle babies, and also provides education for parents about crib safety while they're in the hospital, but using the sleep sacks will set the best example for parents, she said.
All three hospitals are providing sleep sacks for new infants, courtesy of HALO Innovations Inc.
The company's founder Bill Schmid developed its HALO SleepSack wearable blanket after losing a child to SIDS, and the company provides the sleep sacks free to hospitals to promote safety.