Vermont Infant Safe Sleep Research and Social Marketing

State: Vermont

Client(s): Vermont Department of Health

Services: Health Communication, Applied Research & Evaluation

Technical Expertise: Health Disparities, Maternal and Child Health, Population Health, Rural Health, State and Local Public Health


In working towards the Healthy Vermonters 2020 and Title V Maternal and Child Health Block Grant goals of reducing sudden, unexpected infant death (SUID), it is necessary to develop and disseminate a clear, effective message to parents, caregivers, and providers who work with families of infants about how to establish a safe sleep environment and practices. With this goal in mind, the Vermont Department of Health chose JSI to conduct formative research and create related marketing, communications, and public health education services to address the incidents of SUID by reducing the risk of unintentional infant asphyxiation, and to increase the practices of infant safe sleep in Vermont. Ensuring safe sleep environments for infants is a key measure for preventing SUID.

Although the National Back to Sleep campaign has been successful in educating parents and professionals about the importance of putting the baby on his/her back to sleep, the campaign’s re-branding as the Safe to Sleep campaign highlights the work still required to educate the public about safe sleep environments, including using a firm sleep surface, keeping pillows and blankets out of the sleeping area, and other recommendations outlined by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP 2016).

Messages about safe sleep environments encompass a broader set of actions and environmental requirements, which can make both education and behavior change more challenging than simply putting a child on his/her back to sleep. Further complicating the goal of improving infant sleep environment safety are the challenges that parents face in both understanding and implementing the safe sleep recommendations. JSI’s social marketing approach addresses the current realities of VT’s parent and provider communities, including the unique challenges and barriers faced by VT parents, based on an understanding of best practices for safe sleep and their relation to other public health issues such as breastfeeding and smoking. Methodology includes formative research with parents and providers to shape the development of a social marketing strategy, a feasible implementation for a statewide roll out of the campaign, and a monitoring and evaluation plan.