The Herald Bulletin

December 6, 2013

Bill Stanczykiewicz: Infant mortality in Indiana a major challenge

By Bill Stanczykiewicz
For The Herald Bulletin

---- — Too many Hoosier babies are being mourned at funerals instead of being celebrated on their first birthdays, prompting a new statewide initiative to eliminate infant mortality.

Indiana’s infant mortality rate — the number of children who die before their first birthday — is 25 percent higher than the national average. In terms of percentages, 7.6 of every 1,000 babies died before turning one year old.

“Infant mortality in Indiana is a huge challenge,” said Dr. William VanNess, commissioner of the Indiana State Department of Health. “We’ve been below 7 only once in the last 113 years. That’s why we’re putting this as our No. 1 priority.”

While many risk factors are associated with infant mortality, VanNess said smoking during pregnancy tops the list. In 2011, 16.6 percent of Indiana mothers reported smoking while pregnant, almost double the national average.

According to the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO), nicotine is not what a healthy baby should expect while mom is expecting. “Nicotine levels can be higher for a fetus than for the mother,” ASTHO writes, increasing the likelihood of birth defects, low birth weight and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), the top three causes of infant mortality.

The association recommends doctors spend time during each medical visit talking with mom about smoking. This assumes mom is able to have medical visits. One-third of pregnant moms do not receive first trimester prenatal care. Babies born without prenatal care are five times more likely to die during their first year of life.

Other risk factors include obesity and a lack of breastfeeding. In addition, infant mortality is twice more likely for infants who are being raised in a single-parent home.

Dr. Deborah McMahan, health commissioner of the Fort Wayne-Allen County Department of Health, says medical professionals can best prevent the causes of infant mortality by partnering with community organizations where mom lives to make services and resources more accessible.

“We have a tremendous amount of resources, but not everyone is familiar with those resources,” McMahan lamented.

The Indiana State Department of Health has launched an initiative to develop more community partnerships, first by analyzing local data, and then by providing that data to local community leaders who then can design targeted solutions.

For example, VanNess described how data analysis discovered one solution. “There’s a higher rate of suffocation among black infants,” VanNess noted, “whether that’s from sleeping with parents or not putting babies to sleep on their back. So we’re trying to provide information about sleep habits. That’s a statistic that through education we can certainly improve.”

Families, health care providers and community organizations working together can ensure that more Indiana babies are blowing out a candle on their first birthday.

Bill Stanczykiewicz, a former Anderson radio sports announcer, is president and CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute.