In 1997 Alison Jacobson never imagined she’d be one of the 3,500 parents each year whose baby dies from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) or sleep-related infant death, when she lost her son Connor. But now, 20 years later, she has become a force in preventing as many other parents from experiencing the same tragedy, and comforting those who have.

“Back then there was no social media where I could share my grief with a group, but I was able to search the internet and found First Candle, the national non-profit committed to eliminating SIDS and stillbirth while providing bereavement support to families who have lost a baby. First Candle was my life line. They connected me with other parents who had lost a baby and helped me get through some of the darkest days of my life,” she says.

Jacobson is now the CEO/executive director of First Candle. Despite tremendous progress being made in the late ‘90s in reducing the rate of SIDS through the “Back to Sleep” campaign, it remains the leading cause of death for babies one month to one year of age. Combined with rate of stillbirths, over 27,000 babies die every year. First Candle’s mission is not only to reduce these rates but also to provide bereavement support for families who have experienced this indescribable loss.

Last year, the American Academy of Pediatrics expanded their guidelines for Safe Sleep to now include room sharing, not bed sharing with your baby for at least the first year of life. This, combined with keeping the baby’s sleep area completely free of blankets, pillows, stuffed animals, bumpers and loose clothing can dramatically reduce the rate of these deaths. Educating community leaders, caregivers, social workers and public health nurses as well as parents on these guidelines is a critical component of what First Candle does.

“We know that the rate of sleep-related infant deaths is higher in lower socio-economic communities and among teen parents where they might, for cultural, financial or logistical reasons choose to place their baby in unsafe sleep environments,” explains Jacobson. “But throughout all of our communities many parents still have not heard the message that keeping everything out of the baby’s crib is critical. We’re working to change that. We host “Straight Talk for Safe Sleep” training sessions for nurses, social workers and daycare providers and then Parent Classes where we distribute cribs, pacifiers and wearable blankets to help facilitate a safe sleep environment.”

A big part of First Candle’s mission remains bereavement support.

“Despite our work with new and expectant parents, there will always be babies we can’t save and for those parents, having other people who understand what they’re going through is important. We have grief counselors, books, peer support and online groups to help.”

On Thursday, Oct. 19, in memory of her son Connor and in recognition of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, Jacobson will be hosting Taste of Heaven, a food and wine tasting at Aitoro Appliances in Norwalk. Restaurants and caterers from Wilton, Westport and Norwalk will be on hand with samples of some of their favorite menu items and the Ridgefield-based band Skunk Rockets will perform. The event will take place from 6-8 p.m. and tickets are on sale for $45 per person or $125 for a family of four with two children under 12-years-old. Tickets can be purchased online.

Participating Restaurants

Lombardi’s Trattoria
Marianne Wilson Catering
Rifka’s Beach Café
Painted Cookie
Mac It
Little Pub
Café Dolce
Breakfast Belle
Damon Daye
Steel Sharpens Steel