The Safe T Sleep® story
Miriam Rutherford - van Gisbergen’s work, philosophy and products are driven by her passion for positive, trust-building parenting skills and safety education for babies and toddlers. She is motivated by a belief in continual learning for self-improvement and empowerment of others. Her philosophy encompasses that the values of experiential learning and intuitive wisdom would be wise to be recognised alongside the scientific model of learning, “especially as a means to promote nurturing, positive parenting skills as a ‘learned art’. Babies and children are not just ‘scientific’ objects” says Miriam.
Miriam consults widely and provides advice and support to individual parents and many professionals. As an early advocate and facilitator of positive parenting skills, Miriam was among the pioneers of positive parenting workshops, which she has facilitated for over twenty five years. She has since worked with a range of other health professionals in promoting positive parenting and baby sleep safety awareness, gathering national and international studies that address sleeptime risks, and Positional Plagiocephaly (deformed and flat head) issues.
Hospital Cranio Facial Plastic Surgery Clinics have involved Miriam and her SleepwrapÒ’s in helping to prevent and correct positional Plagiocephaly commonly known as flat /deformed heads. This is often caused by a baby sleeping on the same head spot despite all efforts to persuade otherwise. Globally at least 35% of baby flat /deformed head’s NEVER return to an acceptable shape. Surgeons have referred over fifty four families and babies with this problem to Miriam, fifty two of whom have been corrected thereby avoiding cumbersome and uncomfortable helmet therapy, and two babies avoiding surgery. Medical Paper: http://www.nzma.org.nz/journal/116-1181/581/
According to several of New Zealand’s leading Paediatricians, Surgeons and Cranio Facial Specialists, Miriam’s “education workshops and (her) practical products are making a “difference”. They receive very favourable feedback from many parents”. http://www.safetsleep.com/pages/heads
Her time has also been devoted to working with hospitals and committees working on infant product safety projects and is frequently invited to present safe sleeping seminars on Marae, national and international Medical Conferences. She calculates at least one third of her time is spent in community service of one kind or another.
Miriam’s awareness and interest in supporting special needs groups, not-for-profit organisations and lower socio-economic individuals, including teenage mums, multiple birth groups and organisations such as Plunket sees a myriad of product donations go out each year.
Luckily there is also a growing awareness of the cost-cutting benefits with using the Sleepwrap’s, as babies from birth – three years of age can sleep safely anywhere on a mattress or bed reducing the need for expensive nursery furniture and bedding. Not only saving money but also space and paraphernalia when travelling, says Miriam.
Invitations to Miriam resulted in her presenting Medical Papers and/or workshops at the International SIDS Conference, International Karitane Conference, New Zealand College of Midwives National Conference, International Paediatric Nurses Conference, International Midwives Congress and the New Zealand National Early Childhood Council Conference.
As a mother of three, part-time night school equipped her with skills including Interpersonal Communications tutoring, Human Development tutoring, a Community Workers Certificate and an Adult Education Diploma.
Miriam applied her skills as a volunteer counsellor for Lifeline for a number of years. Also setting up a playgroup for families in her area and later founding and leading a local Residents’ Association for four years, which is still operating to date.
As a young mother Miriam instinctively acted to protect her first born, wriggly and adventurous baby. Having an earlier experience of nursing a baby with severe, permanent brain damage after falling from a cot, made her acutely aware of the serious safety concerns and importance of being proactive in helping to prevent such things happening to her own children.
Statistically based research shows that nearly one in five 0-four year olds who are hospitalised each year from falls, are from cot/crib and bed falls “Even falls when cot sides are down or when baby is in a low bed” says Miriam, “it is often ‘how’ they fall and what they fall against”.
When a young mother, Miriam and some friends and relatives all began experimenting with various versions of ‘wraps’. Miriam kept her model extremely simple to enable her own son to feel comfortable and secure yet still have freedom to move flexibly and naturally, so that as he got older he would be able to turn freely within the wrap. The result was a cosy, flexible yet secure, swaddling wrap that helped him to settle comfortably and allowed Miriam a few extra minutes to attend to him on waking, reducing the likelihood of him climbing or falling from his cot and/or creeping and suffocating whilst asleep.
Significantly Occupational Therapists later reported that the Sleepwrap allowed babies to move freely according to their age and stage of development only reducing movements that placed them at risk.
Years after tackling the problem with her homemade wrap, parents and colleagues in the New Zealand Parents Centre Association urged her to make her idea more widely available. After extensive initial research, professional hospital clinical and hospital laundry trials plus scientific fabric testing, resulted in a safe, tested approved well conducted Safe T Sleep® Sleepwrap®.
Before initial designs of the Safe T Sleep Sleepwrap were officially released to the public, Miriam and many volunteers’ co-ordinated formal, extensive and professional research trials to assess its performance. The trials ran over a six month period, involving 300 babies, sourced through Parents, Grandparents, Caregivers, members of New Zealand Parent Centres, Doctors, Paediatricians, Obstetricians, Nurses, Midwives, individual Plunket/Karitane Family Centres, Plunket Volunteers, Clinical, Behavioural and Developmental Psychologists, Counsellors, Occupational Therapists, Hospital Maternity and Neo Natal services.
The feedback was overwhelmingly positive with Safe T Sleep Sleepwrap users experiencing not only peace of mind and improved safety but also often much more restful, settled sleep patterns for their babies.
However, the hard work had just begun. Although Miriam had a range of work experiences from nursing to parenting, designing and building a house, facilitating workshops, counselling, tutoring and research; running her own business posed some “steep and exciting learning curves,” she says.
Miriam ensures that there is regular dialogue, networking and ongoing requests for feedback. This reinforces her philosophy of treating feedback from users seriously and making parenting and care-giving a more enjoyable, practical, anxiety-free experience, especially for first time parents and caregivers. Her first book released in 2011 ‘Baby Wisdom’ reflects this. See http://www.safetsleep.com/shop/baby-wisdom-book
The Sleepwrap’s continue to be used successfully to give peace of mind and to help parents and caregivers address the various baby/child sleep safety concerns. These include helping to address three of the major Cot Death/SIDS/SUDI risks as the Sleepwraps ‘help keep baby’s face and head clear’, ‘helps prevent tummy sleeping for young infants’ and overheating. Significantly also reducing developmental preventable injuries such as falls.
Miriam is passionate about giving ‘full’ educational information and believes that some aspects of current official advice is missing some vital information for parental choices and in one case clinically unsound. For example the recommendation of putting babies to sleep with their ‘feet to the foot of the cot’ by short sheeting, “because it is not 100% fool proof”. She has met the parents of five babies, four who died after their parents followed this particular recommendation, and a fifth who nearly lost their baby. Their babies creeping, twisting, turning, lodging and/or jamming sideways or at the bottom of the cot underneath the blankets. According to a Clinical Review article the evidence leading to this recommendation is weak and needs further study Ref: CLINICAL REV.NET – visit http://www.safetsleep.com/pages/testing-trialing
A strong faith, supportive staff, key friends, and mentors, particularly tremendous support from her patent and trademark solicitor, encouragement from medical professionals and strong support and practical assistance from her three children at different stages “has taken me through the challenges” says Miriam. Miriam retains some specific hands on roles for the business. These include co-ordinating national and off-shore manufacturing, quality control and quality assurance issues, national and international networking, marketing and product development and training.
Since its conception in 1976 and delivery onto the world market in 1992 hundreds of thousands of babies have slept safely with a Safe T Sleep® Sleepwrap® and little HEADwedge.