CLEVELAND, OH — With Ohio ranking worst in the nation for African American infant mortality and 48th in the nation for overall births, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) visited Metro Health on Tuesday to announce landmark legislation to help doctors and researchers better understand the causes of stillbirths, Sudden Unexpected Infant Deaths (SUID), and Sudden Unexpected Deaths in Childhood (SUDC).

“No parent should have to grieve the loss of a child without access to answers and help,” Brown said. “Currently, Ohio is worst in the nation for African American infant mortality and 48th in the nation for all births. This is unacceptable. That’s why I am introducing the Sudden Unexpected Death Data Enhancement and Awareness Act to help doctors and researchers begin to fight back against these tragic losses and help ensure that all children have every opportunity to lead healthy and full lives.”

Brown was joined by a northeast Ohio mother who lost twins and Dr. Brian Mercer, who outlined efforts to address this issue in northeast Ohio.

Ohio has the highest infant mortality rate for African American babies in the continental United States and ranks third from the bottom for all births. Each year, there are more than 25,000 stillbirths in the United States. Many of these deaths are the result of birth defects, umbilical cord problems, chronic conditions of the mother, or infections. There is no known cause for as many as half of all stillbirths, leaving thousands of parents without any explanation for these deaths. In addition, there are more than 4,600 sudden unexpected infant deaths each year and another 200 children between the ages of one and four who die without any clear cause of death. Many of these tragedies could be prevented with more data and research on cause of death.

Brown’s landmark legislation aims to fill the gaps in federal reporting of infant and childhood deaths as a way to improve prevention efforts. The legislation would give the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) authority to standardize the protocols used by medical examiners in stillbirths and unexpected infant and childhood deaths. Additionally, the legislation would build on existing activities at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to establish and promote a standard method of data collection for scene investigations and autopsies so that every entity involved in investigating the deaths of infants and young children is on the same page. This would enable doctors and researchers to better track and prevent these tragic losses.

This bipartisan legislation that was introduced with Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), is supported by more than 20 local, state, and national organizations, including the Children’s Hospital Association, the International Association of Coroners and Medical Examiners, and the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA). In addition, the Ohio Hospital Association and the Ohio Public Health Association have endorsed this legislation.

Yesterday, Brown called on the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to issue clear rules and warnings on crib bumpers to provide accurate information for parents and to keep infants safe while they sleep. Between 1985 and 2007, there were more than two dozen instances of infant death that involved soft crib bumpers, which can restrict breathing. Physicians, child safety experts, and industry leaders all recognize that unregulated crib bumpers and other forms of soft bedding remain a significant risk factor for SUID. In May 2012, JPMA – the trade association which represents manufacturers of infant products like cribs and car seats – petitioned the CPSC for a clear standard to define safe and unsafe bumpers, but no action has been taken. Brown called on CPSC Chairman Elliot Kaye to prioritize this rulemaking and equip parents and consumers with more information so that they can make the best choices for their children.

Last week, Brown’s office convened two safe sleep events in Lorain County to educate parents, grandparents, mothers-to-be, babysitters and all others who care for infants about creating a safe sleep environment for babies.