All About Babies

This Sleep Safety PSA Will Freak You Out

Prepare yourself before watching this disturbing campaign ad about sleep safety for babies.

baby sleeping on back on pink blanket Shutterstock
I grew up during the Just Say No era, when you couldn't get through an episode of "Jem" without seeing a commercial showing how drugs fry your brain like an egg. It was simple, riveting, and terrifying, and the fact that I remember it all these years later is proof of its staying power.

Fear works—at least that's what one Ohio group is banking on with its new safe sleep campaign. Starting this week, parents in Columbus won't be able to turn on the TV without seeing a heart-wrenching commercial. It begins innocently enough, with a shot of a stuffed animal on a polka-dotted sheet and a narrator reminding us of the ABCs of safe sleep (babies should snooze alone, on their backs, in an empty crib, with nothing but a firm mattress and a tightly fitted sheet). The camera slowly pulls back, and halfway through the 30-second spot, the sweet image turns ugly, as we realize the crib mattress is actually nestled inside of a dug-out grave. Gulp.

Even if you're half-watching TV while heating up baby's bottle, the message is tough to miss. Which is exactly the point. In Columbus, sleep-related deaths are shockingly common—they account for roughly 17 percent of all infant deaths in the city, according to Celebrate One, the countywide initiative to help ensure all babies reach their first birthday. They're also the city's leading cause of deaths for babies between 1 month and 12 months of age: On average, one Columbus area baby dies every other week due to unsafe sleep practices like co-sleeping, putting baby down on her belly, and filling a crib with blankets, toys, and bumpers. That's enough to fill a kindergarten class.

But sleep-related deaths are hardly just an issue in Columbus. They happen across our country, most prominently from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Though these tragic, unexpected deaths can't always be explained, a large portion occur when the child is dozing in an unsafe environment, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And though we parents can fully control the space where our kiddos get some shut-eye, lots of us fail to do so. Which is why simple, straightforward educational campaigns like this one in Columbus are so important—even if they are as scary as a Just Say No commercial.

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Bonnie Gibbs Vengrow is a New York City-based writer and editor who traded in her Blackberry and Metro card for playdates and PB&J sandwiches—and the once-in-a-lifetime chance to watch her feisty, funny son grow up. Follow her on Twitter and Pinterest.