First Candle Convenes Public Health Advisory Committee to Address Role of Racial Disparity and Implicit Bias in Infant Mortality Rates

April 12, 2021, New Canaan, CT –  First Candle, the national non-profit committed to ending Sudden Unexpected Infant Death (SUID), has announced the formation of a standing Public Health Advisory Committee of health care professionals and advocates to address racial disparity, health equity and implicit bias in maternal and infant health practices and their impacts on sleep-related infant mortality.

The volunteer committee is comprised of  leaders across a spectrum of organizations, ranging from health care professionals and public health outreach workers  to national maternal  justice advocacy organizations and policy makers. This includes Moms Rising, Black Mothers’ Breastfeeding Association and Healthy Mothers Healthy Babies Coalition of Georgia.

“SUID claims  the lives of 3,600 babies in the U.S. every year,” said Alison Jacobson, CEO and executive director of First Candle, “and as with maternal deaths, the racial disparity is tremendous. Black infants are dying at more than twice the rate of white babies.”

According to Jacobson, structural racism,  Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE), social determinants of health, socioeconomic barriers and cultural beliefs affect a family’s ability to access and adopt the  Safe Sleep Guidelines developed by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), which can significantly reduce the rate of SUID. .

“As an organization we are committed to first listening and learning from people in the community as to the lived experiences and challenges that exist in accessing quality care and resources for both mom and baby,” Jacobson said. “As we develop our education and outreach programs we are intent on viewing them through the lens of racial equity.  We are excited to work collaboratively with our Public Health Advisory Committee to guide us in our goal.”

A central component of First Candle’s Straight Talk for Infant Safe Sleep, a train-the-trainer program for hospitals, public health educators, doulas and social service agencies  who work with families, which includes a focus on implicit bias training and  delivering the AAP safe sleep guidelines in a culturally competent manner. .

“We also have aligned with organizations addressing racial inequities in maternal morbidity rates,” Jacobson said, “as well as tackling the fact that premature and low birth weight infants have a four times greater risk of SIDS. These entities are re-imagining healthcare for communities of Color, and we want to lend our voice on how this can reduce SUID. The Public Health Advisory Committee will play an important role in helping First Candle to achieve this.”

The Committee’s founding members include:

John Ciannella, Director of Neonatology at Stamford Hospital, Stamford Connecticut.

Barb Himes, IBCLC, Director of Education and Bereavement Services, First Candle.

Ben Hoffman, Professor of Pediatrics at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital and Oregon Health and Science University and Chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Injury Violence and Poison Prevention.

Byron Johnson, Vice President, Evoke KYNE

Kyesha Lindberg, Executive Director, Healthy Mothers Healthy Babies Coalition of Georgia.

Avonlea Rickerson, Program Manager, Black Mothers’ Breastfeeding Association.

Andrew Rubenstein, MD, FACOG Academic Chair, Chair, Obstetrics and Gynecology for the Dignity Health Medical Group at Saint Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center (SJHMC) in Phoenix, Arizona.

Tina Sherman, Campaign Director for Breastfeeding and Paid Leave Campaigns, Moms Rising.

Dauline Singletary, MPH, CCE (ACBE), CD (DONA) Public Health Educator, Wake County Health, Durham, North Carolina.

Ciannella, Johnson and Rubenstein are First Candle board members.

“Working in Public Health, we all see that the racial and health inequities in Black and brown communities are much higher than that of white communities, Singletary said. “Developing a committee that focuses on the needs and providing the resources not only promotes healthy babies, but healthy families.”

“First Candle has been on the forefront of moving the needle forward on the commitment to ending SUID and other sleep-related infant deaths, Rubenstein said. “The formation of this diverse, multi-disciplinary advisory committee is paramount to drive changes within the healthcare models and address, the disparities in maternal and child health.  Without this endeavor and collaboration, we may not see the changes necessary to improve healthcare outcomes for families.”

The Public Health Advisory Committee formation comes at a time of increased public outreach for First Candle around family perceptions of the AAP safe sleep guidelines. The organization has been convening community task forces in Georgia, Connecticut and Michigan comprised of parents, extended family, in-home health care providers, social service agencies and doulas, to learn their thoughts on the guidelines and the challenges in adopting them, as well as the role systemic racism plays.

The findings are being shared with the AAP as it develops the updated guidelines, scheduled to be released in 2021. The community task forces will then have the opportunity to participate in framing how the revised guidelines are communicated to their communities.

“We’re honored to have the Public Health Advisory Committee’s service and excited about working with its members,” Jacobson said. “We want every baby to reach his or her first birthday and beyond, and central to that is eliminating racial disparity. We know the answers lie within the relationship between health care providers and families, we feel it’s our job to listen, learn and provide both leadership and support.”

About First Candle

First Candle, based in New Canaan, Connecticut, is a national 501c (3) committed to ending SUID, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), and other sleep-related infant deaths, while providing bereavement support to families who have experienced a loss.