Austin resident Tayatta Williams never thought twice about laying her 6-month-old daughter on her stomach when the infant was ready for bed.

Like her two older siblings, baby Trenia seemed to sleep best on her belly.

But placing babies on their stomachs during sleep can actually be more harmful to infants than many parents think. Oak Park’s PCC Community Wellness Center wants to educate parents like Williams about infant mortality prevention.

PCC used the Dr. King holiday and Sunday services at churches in Austin and Oak Park to get the word out to parents and the community as part of “Closing the Gap,” a state-initiative to reduce the high numbers of infant deaths in the black community.

PCC is among a number of state and community health agencies involved in Closing the Gap. Austin and South Side communities Auburn-Gresham, Englewood and West Englewood were targeted for their high infant mortality rates. Chicago’s Austin community has the highest rates of infant mortality in the city.

According to the Chicago Department of Public Health, 14.6 percent of babies in Austin died due to such causes as pre-maturity or SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).

The four African-American communities combined had 262 infant deaths between 1998 and 2000, or 18.3 for every 1000 live births. The black infant mortality rate in Illinois was 16.7 in that span. Citywide, black babies accounted for 19 percent of infant deaths in 2003.

Causes, health experts say, are varied. But certain things such as smoking by pregnant mothers, stress and infant care are known contributing factors. SIDS, for instance, could be prevented if parents were aware of such things as how to properly place their babies in the cribs for sleep.

“My daughter who’s 14, she was sleeping on her stomach,” said Williams of her oldest. “That was 14 years ago when there wasn’t this big emphasis on sudden infant death syndrome. If you’ve had children, you’re going to keep doing the same things. But now there’s more warning signs. We’re getting more educated about it so, I guess it would be best to follow what they’re saying.”

“I knew some of the stuff and picked up on the other things, so I’ll try to apply it more seriously,” said Williams’ boyfriend Trenton Cummings. “I know people who have newborns as well so I’ll try to help them out and pass this along.”

Williams’ church, New Mt. Pilgrim Baptist Church at 4301 W. Washington Blvd. in Austin was one of four churches hosting PCC and Closing the Gap representatives who provided information to parishioners after services.

Other participating churches were Austin’s New Pleasant Valley Church, 5443 W. Huron St., and St. Martin de Porres, 5112 W. Washington Blvd., and Oak Park’s St. Catherine and St. Lucy Catholic Church at 38 N. Austin Blvd.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich launched Closing the Gap in July 2005. The disparity between blacks and whites in the state were alarming enough to launch the campaign.

According to the Illinois Department of Health, 15.6 percent of black babies died in 2003, compared to only 6.1 percent of white babies. In 2002, African-American infants were three times more likely than white infants to die before reaching their first birthday.

The campaign has used educational outreach such as billboards on buses and el trains to spread the message.

Sunday’s unique Dr. King holiday effort grew out of discussions among the Illinois Maternal and Child Health Coalition, which PCC Community Wellness Center is a member. Dr. King preached equality, which “begins at birth” according to the campaign.

“What we’re doing here in the churches is spreading the word to everyone, not just teenagers, and not even women who have kids,” said Andrea McGlynn, coordinator of PCC’s Maternal Child Health Community Services.

PCC offers free prenatal classes every Thursday at 22 Lake St. Classes teach about proper diet, stages of labor and infant care, information parents and people who care for children are just not aware of, said Clorinda Moore, a PCC Community Wellness Center worker, who talked with parishioners at St. Catherine and St. Lucy on Sunday.

“In school you can read about it but to hear someone talk about it hands on is better,” she said. “And it’s free. You can’t beat getting free information.”

For more information about the Closing the Gap initiative, visit the Illinois Maternal and Child Care Coalition website at For more information about PCC Community Wellness Center, call 383-0113 ext. 7297.