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Paivia Brown knows the pure joy—and the anxiety—of holding her newborn daughter Paiton, especially in the first few days after her birth last fall.
“I felt so nervous about something that should have felt so natural,” recalled Brown, a first-time mom from Evanston who wanted her baby to have skin-to-skin contact right away. “I was anxious holding Paiton and breastfeeding her correctly. Sometimes I even worried if she was still breathing.”
Respiratory Risk Eight months after Paiton’s birth, mother and daughter are doing well. But Brown’s concerns are not unfounded. Incidents of healthy newborns suffering a breathing obstruction due to poor positioning are gaining attention. It is a condition called sudden unexpected postnatal collapse (SUPC), which can lead to serious neurological deficits and even death for otherwise well newborns. SUPC has been linked to a number of risk factors—including poor positioning that can block an infant’s airway resulting from maternal fatigue or even distraction from smartphone use. A pair of NorthShore clinicians are on a mission to change that through a new education program led by the Departments of Pediatrics, Obstetrics and Gynecology and the Grainger Center for Simulation and Innovation.
“NorthShore is taking the lead to raise awareness of SUPC,” explained Nurse Practitioner and Researcher Nancy Garofalo, PhD. “SUPC occurs when healthy infants stop breathing while being breastfed by distracted or extremely fatigued moms, or when they are positioned improperly during skin-to-skin contact by either parent.”
“There are many benefits of breastfeeding, but there’s also an urgency to address SUPC’s risk factors especially in the first few crucial hours and days after birth,” noted Garofalo’s research partner Neonatologist Matthew Pellerite, MD, who holds an academic appointment at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine.
Trailblazing Research The pair developed an innovative prevention education and training program for physicians and nurses, as well as new parents. It emphasizes distraction-free breastfeeding—including proper positioning to keep the infant’s airway unobstructed and maintaining a constant focus of attention.
“This means putting cell phones down while new moms are nursing so they can keep their eyes on the baby’s face,” emphasized Garofalo, who also noted the enormous team effort involved at NorthShore including physicians, nurses and administration to develop the comprehensive program. The research team also collaborates with University of Chicago Neonatologist Joseph Hageman, MD.
Leading organizations also have taken note, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics. “NorthShore has become a model for other institutions to collaborate with us to prevent future SUPC cases,” said Dr. Pellerite.