Safe Sleep Communications Strategy: What We've Learned About Helping Babies Sleep Safe

​Safe sleep communications strategy: What we’ve learned about helping babies sleep safe.  


We know that oftentimes, professionals have long lists of recommendations for parents to reduce their babies’ risks of Sudden Unexplained Infant Death and other sleep-related health issues. We also know that new parents are trying to keep their heads above water – they’re sleep deprived and inundated with messages about the “right way” to care for their babies. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics has created new family material for our safe sleep partners and pediatricians, including targeted material for populations who have a higher risk of sleep-related infant deaths. We knew the way to make useful items that resonate would be to talk to parents themselves. The following is what we learned from research with parents and grandparents around safe sleep messaging. Please consider these strategies when crafting your own messages or when sharing material from this toolkit.  

Strategy 

Focus on sleeping soundly (emphasis on sleeping deeper because you know your baby is safe) versus sleeping better (emphasis on getting unbroken sleep). 

Why it works 
Key unsafe sleep behaviors (bed-sharing and tummy-sleep) are driven by a desire to help the baby sleep deeper and longer so the parent can also sleep or get time to themselves. Strategies that offer moms the “solution to sleep” must not promise something that moms have rarely experienced (e.g., 8-straight hours of sleep). 

Strategy 

Emphasize that baby will choose how he wants to sleep once he starts turning himself over — until then, stick with what’s safest. 

Why it works 
We found that many parents and grandparents who put baby to sleep on her stomach did so because “she is more comfortable that way.” The “babies will choose how they want to sleep” message acknowledges that a baby may have a preference, but now, while the parents are still in control, they can take the step that will keep baby safest. 

Strategy 

Instead of addressing all possible scenarios, focus on this simple message: babies sleep safest on their backs. 

Why it works 
Many parents who put their babies to sleep on their stomachs do so out of worry about spitting up and choking. The key is to reinforce the simple message that parents can remember in materials, and pediatricians can provide specifics about why choking is not a concern for back sleeping. 

Strategy 

Use empathy. 

Why it works 
We found that parents are extremely sensitive to messaging that sounds condescending or not based in the reality they are currently experiencing. They specifically want to hear real advice from real parents. While that may not always be possible depending on the messenger, focusing on empathetic tone and direction is key. 

Strategy 

For the at-risk African American and American Indian populations, call out the higher risk of SIDS and make messages feel like they are coming from the community. 

Why it works 
Both of these groups responded well to concepts that spoke specifically to their culture through images and language.  

In addition, both at-risk audiences were intrigued by the calls to action that specifically mentioned the higher rate of sleep-related deaths in their community, saying that want to know why that was true and what they could do about it. 

December 2018