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Judith Bannon

Judith Bannon: Pioneering Infant Sleep Education and Support Programs

Preventing Infant Mortality!

The infant care service niche is perpetually working on understanding and preventing Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), a leading cause of mortality among newborns. The field has seen significant advancements through initiatives such as the Back to Sleep campaign, emphasizing the importance of sleep positioning in reducing SIDS rates. Over the years, various studies and public health campaigns have worked relentlessly to educate parents and caregivers about safe sleep practices. Despite these efforts, challenges remain in ensuring that all families have access to the necessary resources and information to provide safe sleeping environments for their infants.

Judith Bannon, CEO and Founder of Cribs for Kids, has played a crucial role in addressing these challenges. As a dedicated advocate for infant health, Judy has been engaged in initiatives to lower SIDS rates and promote safe sleep education. Her journey began in the late 1980s, when she was deeply involved in development roles and organized significant fundraising events. Judy’s passion for preventing infant deaths led her to become a key figure in the SIDS community, where she pushed forward groundbreaking research and awareness campaigns, ultimately founding impactful programs and initiatives.

Cribs for Kids, established under Judy’s guidance, is dedicated to preventing infant sleep-related deaths through education and the provision of safe sleep environments. It has grown from a local initiative to a national non-profit with over 2,000 partners across the United States. The organization offers safe sleep products at discounted prices and provides a range of educational materials and programs to hospitals, health departments, and other partners. Through continuous innovation and commitment, Cribs for Kids has made significant strides in changing the culture of infant sleep safety.

Let’s explore Judy’s journey to reducing SIDS rates:

A Commitment to Infant Health

In 1989, Judy served as the Director of Development for United Cerebral Palsy of the Pittsburgh District, acting as the producer of their Weekend with the Stars annual telethon. This event raised $22 million nationwide for people with cerebral palsy. Ray Mansfield, a former Center for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and his business partner Chuck Puskar, a SIDS Dad and SIDS of PA board chairman, had seen the telethon on TV and approached Judy to become SIDS of Pennsylvania’s first Executive Director.

When it came to Judy’s attention that over 10,000 babies a year were dying of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and no telethons were being held to support research into the cause of these deaths, her decision to accept the position was an easy one. Her goal was to determine what was causing babies to die “mysteriously” in their sleep and then find a way to eliminate these deaths.

The Impact of Sleep Position on SIDS Rates

By 1992, the only identified risk factors for SIDS were low birth weight, premature births, and smoking during pregnancy and around the infant. In February of that year, Judy was asked to do a marketing presentation at the International SIDS Conference in Sydney, Australia. There, the SIDS community learned about a study conducted in Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.

This study consisted of parents being asked to put their babies to sleep on their backs rather than their tummies to reduce the risk of SIDS. After three years, the rate of babies dying of SIDS plummeted by over 50%. This study marked the beginning of the Back to Sleep Campaign, initiated by the NICHD and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) in the United States in 1994.

Meanwhile, in Allegheny County (Pittsburgh, PA), under Judy’s leadership, the team at SIDS of PA was working diligently to spread the Back to Sleep message.

The Evolution of Safe Sleep Advocacy

By 1996, like the rest of the country, the SIDS rates in Allegheny County had dropped by about 50%, going from 54 a year before the Back to Sleep campaign to 28 deaths in 1996. As a member of the Allegheny County Child Death Review Team, Judy had access to the autopsy findings related to these 28 deaths. Although there was satisfaction with the decrease, the loss of 28 babies’ lives a year was still too many.

At that time, Judy contacted the Allegheny County Coroner, Dr. Cyril Wecht, asking if she could review the death scene investigations of all 28 babies to determine what, if anything, these babies’ deaths had in common. She was joined in her efforts by the Allegheny County District Attorney, Stephen Zappala, a Commander on the Pittsburgh Police Force, Gwen Elliott, and the then President of Pittsburgh City Council and future mayor, Bob O’Connor.

These 28 deaths did have something in common. Over 90% of these infants were found in unsafe sleeping environments: in bed with a parent or sibling, on their tummies, on couches, in car seats, and some in cribs cluttered with stuffed animals, pillows, and bumper pads. In addition, many of the deaths happened in low-income neighborhoods, where many families could not afford a safe place for their babies to sleep. The findings from this informal study launched Cribs for Kids.

Judy’s goal became immediately apparent: change the Back to Sleep message to include safe sleep and provide infant safe sleep education, but more importantly, a safety-approved crib for families in need.

The Creation of a Unique Product Line

Once Cribs for Kids was established in Allegheny County and surrounding counties in western Pennsylvania, SIDS rates sharply declined. To spread its sleep message, Judy began writing abstracts for national conferences. At the 2004 APHA conference in Washington, DC, the Director of Maternal and Child Health for the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Dr. Lorraine Boyd, approached Judy and expressed her need for Judy’s ‘pearls of wisdom’.

The ‘crib’ adopted for the program because of its cost, size and portability, the Graco Pack n Play enthralled Dr. Boyd. New York City had a problem with the space that a full-sized crib took up in the small living quarters in the city. Also, the Pack-n-Play, which was the perfect size could be transported in it carrying case on the subway, a popular means of transportation in the city.

New York City signed on as a Cribs for Kids partner, which paved the way for Cribs for Kids’ outreach to the rest of the country. Cribs for Kids’ motto was “We’re in New York City; if we can do it there, we can do it anywhere.” And indeed, the organization did it! Cribs for Kids now has over 2,000 partners nationwide.

However, reaching this success did not come without a learning curve. Shipping containers into Pittsburgh from China, finding a warehouse and learning how to prepare shipments (palletizing, shrink wrapping, etc.) to assure timely delivery to our partners were just part of that learning curve. But the five ladies, along with their donated forklift, prevailed! More importantly, they never let their partners know they were learning as they went.

The time came when Cribs for Kids wanted a personalized crib with the safe sleep message embossed on the fabric: ABC: Alone on My Back in a Crib. When Graco couldn’t accommodate them, Judy contacted factories in China (the only place in the world where play yards are manufactured) and embarked on her most ambitious journey: having a Cribs for Kids’ line of products.

Judy found a company, Korbex International, that was happy to accommodate this request. Through Korbex, Cribs for Kids now has a line of baby products that tout the ABC messaging: the Cribette, their portable crib; the Snoozzzette, their wearable blanket; the Swaddlette, their swaddle; the Snapette, their onesie; the Snuggette, their baby carrier; the Toilette, their potty chair; and the Snackette, their booster seat.

In 2019, Cribs for Kids opened its online retail store featuring these products. The name of the store, ette cetera!, was fitting since all the organization’s products end in “ette.”.

Early on, a local trucking organization in Pittsburgh, Pitt-Ohio, offered Cribs for Kids free shipping to its partners in 14 states. Today, the non-profit is fortunate to continue to take advantage of this generous donation.

Because Pitt-Ohio has successfully grown into a full-service trucking organization, they are now Cribs for Kids’ shipper of record, bringing products from China to their door in Pittsburgh and its other warehouse locations in Long Beach, California, and Indianapolis, IN.

Judy admits the learning curve has been huge, but that’s why her job is so exciting!

The Growth of a Lifesaving Team

Judy believes she has the best job in the world! She goes to work every day, knowing that her passion will save babies’ lives. When Cribs for Kids began in 1998, her staff was only five ladies strong. The organization’s story has been chronicled in “Five Ladies and a Forklift,” written by her daughter, Jennifer Bannon.

Although, due to untimely deaths and retirements, Judy is the only one of the ladies left to carry on the mission. However, she now has a staff of 20 employees who come to work every day with their mission in mind and with the same passion she has always possessed. Cribs for Kids would not have been possible without them.

Changing the Culture of Infant Sleep

At its core, Cribs for Kids is an infant-safe sleep educational program that includes the donation of safety-approved cribs to families in need. The organization’s expansion can be attributed to its all-inclusive approach to changing the culture of infant sleep. In addition to offering safe sleep products at discounted prices, Cribs for Kids boasts a robust catalog of free educational materials based on the American Academy of Pediatrics Recommendations of 2022.

Furthermore, educational programs, which include Safe Sleep Ambassador, Hospital Certification, the Managed Care Incentive Program, and its National Public Safety Initiative, are offered free of charge to its partners. Cribs for Kids also hosts ongoing webinars and a bi-annual conference for partners to keep them updated on the latest research and recalls of infant products.

To truly change the culture of infant sleep, Cribs for Kids has established its online store, ette cetera!, which allows the organization to sell its products to the public. The store can be found at

A Strategic Approach to Infant Safety

Spreading a clear, concise, and consistent safe sleep message on a limited budget proved to be a challenge. After identifying the place where most new moms gather—the 113 birth hospitals in Pennsylvania—Judy and Dr. Eileen Tyrala, a pediatrician from Philadelphia, realized they needed to work smarter, not harder. They got the ear of a few sympathetic legislators, a bill was introduced, and on October 19, 2010, Governor Edward Rendell signed Act 73 of 2010 into law.

This law made it mandatory that every hospital in Pennsylvania provide safe sleep education to mothers after giving birth. The tenets of this bill were the beginning of their Hospital Certification Program, which has spread throughout the country.

Bridging Research and Advocacy

Cribs for Kids is very fortunate to have Dr. Michael Goodstein on its board of directors. He also serves on the Sudden Unexpected Death (SUID) subcommittee of the American Academy of Pediatrics, so they are immediately aware of the latest research. Through its bi-annual National Cribs for Kids Conference and monthly webinars, the organization invites safe-sleep advocates and researchers to share their findings with the safe-sleep community.

Building a Nationwide Network for Infant Safety

The most rewarding aspect of Judy’s role as CEO has been watching Cribs for Kids grow from a local “campaign” to a national non-profit organization with over 2,000 partners nationwide. These partners comprise health departments, hospitals, non-profits, churches, Planned Parenthood affiliates, and many other groups advocating for mothers and babies.

Driving a National Non-Profit

Cribs for Kids has a leadership team of hard-working professionals. Handling the operations end of Cribs for Kids is its Chief Operations Officer, Bridget Gaussa, who came to the organization with 27 years of property management experience in Pittsburgh. Gaussa handles its Managed Care Organization Incentive program, responsible for over 50% of its sales revenue.

Cribs for Kids’ Chief Logistics Officer, Perry Coomans, manages the organization’s warehouse staff, logistics of importing its product from China, distribution to Cribs for Kids’ partners, and facilities management. The organization’s Chief Financial Officer, Nicole Smith, oversees budgeting, inventory management, and all financial transactions that keep the organization afloat.

Cribs for Kids’ main pillar of education is in the hands of its Chief Programs Officer, Devon George, MSN, who, with her master’s in nursing, has championed the organization’s education department. Cribs for Kids Chief Development Officer, Andrea Wilson, MSW, has her master’s in social work and oversees partner relationships and the coordination of the webinar and conference curriculum.

This leadership team, along with a robust support staff and an active board of directors, has enabled the growth of Cribs for Kids to the multi-million-dollar organization it is today.

Changing the Culture of Infant Sleep

Judy’s main goal is to change the culture of infant sleep. In October 2023, Cribs for Kids officially became a worldwide organization, including Canada and Israel, and began talks with Australia. Judy’s goal is to strengthen these partnerships and continue adding domestic and international partners to spread the safe sleep message, thus changing the culture.

A Guide to Impacting Child Safety and Public Health

In her book “Five Ladies and a Forklift,” Judy advises other professionals aiming to make a significant impact on child safety and public health: “Find your passion and never give up on achieving your goals. From realizing that 80% of success is just showing up to not getting hung up on the “hows” of your dreams and surrounding yourself with a strong team, your mission will meet your passion, doors will open, and your success will be guaranteed.” According to Judy, nothing is achieved without passion.

A Store with a Mission

Judy is excited about Cribs for Kids’ for-profit subsidiary, ette cetera!, getting the name because all the safe-sleep products end in “ette”.

Because Cribs for Kids is a non-profit, it is prohibited from being sold to the public. Its online store, ette cetera!, helps spread the infant safe-sleep message to the public through products that include the ABC safe-sleep messaging.

The tagline for ette cetera! is “Shop to Save Lives,” with all the proceeds from the sale of its products benefiting Cribs for Kids’ mission of “Helping Every Baby Sleep Safer.”

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