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Immunizations, safe sleep practices and early literacy are vital for a baby’s healthy development.

Get your baby’s life off to a good start with immunizations, safe sleep practices and lots of reading out loud. That’s the message Georgia First Lady Sandra Deal brought to new parents August 9 at St. Mary’s Family Birth Center during a tour of hospitals to mark Immunization Awareness Month in August.

Georgia First Lady Sandra Deal at St. Mary's Family Birth CenterThroughout her tenure as First Lady, Mrs. Deal has traveled to hospitals across the state to promote a healthy start for infants. At St. Mary’s, she presented each family she visited with an immunization schedule and record card, a picture book, and a personal message about the importance of immunizations, sleep safety, car safety, and getting an early start on reading.

Georgia First Lady Sandra Deal at St. Mary's Family Birth Center“When I was growing up, we had all these childhood diseases,” Deal said. “I had mumps and chicken pox and whooping cough. I know how serious those diseases are, and we can prevent these children from having to go through a lot of that. We don’t want to lose any of these children. That’s why I come on these visits: to encourage parents to give their children the best care possible.”

Georgia First Lady Sandra Deal at St. Mary's Family Birth CenterMrs. Deal’s visit is part of her work with First Steps Georgia to protect all babies from preventable childhood diseases, accidents and injuries, and get an early start on language skills.

Georgia First Lady Sandra Deal at St. Mary's Family Birth Center“I can’t help but teach them a little bit about safe sleep and talking to their babies and reading to them, because those are important, too,” Mrs. Deal said, noting that she also touches on car safety seats and never leaving your baby in the car unattended. “There are just so many things we can do to prevent accidents and prevent illnesses.”

Georgia First Lady Sandra Deal at St. Mary's Family Birth CenterWith each of the families, Mrs. Deal began her visit with smiles and handshakes. When Suzanne Shaw offered to let Mrs. Deal hold her day-old daughter, Mrs. Deal accepted. They quickly began comparing notes as mothers and discovered a possible babysitting option. Then Suzanne took little Mary back, and Mrs. Deal delved into the reasons behind her visit.

First she presented the immunization record card, noting its usefulness even in this age of cell phone and electronic medical records. For example, she said: “You can take it with you anywhere you go. If your baby gets sick on vacation and your doctor’s office is closed, you can still find out when she got her hepatitis vaccination.”

Sleeping face-up is recommended to prevent the baby from suffocating, and separate sleeping is also recommended to prevent exhausted parents from accidently rolling over onto infants who are too young and weak to wake them up.

And talking and reading to your baby is vital to every child’s normal social and language development, she said. “They say the brain is 70 percent developed by the time our children are 3 years old. That’s why parents must start reading to babies at home. You can’t wait until they start 4-year-old preschool.”

First Steps Georgia helps with many aspects of the education Mrs. Deal delivers on her hospital visits, according to Jennifer Henderson, program director for First Steps/Healthy Families and Prevent Child Abuse Athens.

“The mission of First Steps Georgia is to provide universal support services for all expectant parents and for all families with children ages birth to five,” she said. “Among our many services, we provide families with parenting information on topics relevant to parent and child health and safety, and a guide containing information on community resources appropriate for expectant parents and children birth to five and their families.”

St. Mary’s Family Birth Center provides labor, delivery, recovery and postpartum services, in a comfortable, spacious and compassionate setting. Most mothers are able to complete all stages of their birth experience in the same room. The center also includes a full range of pregnancy and breastfeeding classes, a dedicated C-section suite, neonatal intensive care unit, and lactation consultation.

For more information about St. Mary’s Family Birth Center, visit For more information about First Steps Athens, visit or call 706.546.9713.