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Written by HGHSI. Published in the Dublin Courier-Herald September 16, 2009. Baby Steps and Giant Leaps to Decrease Infant Mortality
After several years of improvements, infant deaths rose again recently in middle Georgia. White infants died at a rate of 9.6 babies out of every 1000 born in 2005-2007 after having fallen to 4.1 in 2002-2004. Black infants faired even worse, dying at a rate of 12.7 in 2002-2004 and increasing to 15.6 in 2005-2007. Heart of Georgia Healthy Start wants parents and the community to ask the obvious questions: “Why?” and “What can we do about our babies dying?”
What’s Killing Our Babies
There are several reasons why more babies are dying. Some of them are best addressed by women, families, and their health care providers. Others require the whole community.
Many babies in middle Georgia die from prematurity. These deaths can be decreased by improving women’s health before they get pregnant, decreasing the number of super twin births, and continuing the excellent system of Regional Perinatal Centers that transport women in preterm labor to a Level III center, educate hospital staff to stabilize tiny babies, provide preterm and sick baby transport, and provide Neonatal Intensive Care.
Many other babies in middle Georgia die from birth defects. Something as simple as taking the vitamin folic acid every day before pregnancy or not drinking any alcohol if pregnancy is even possible can help prevent some birth defects, while other birth defects require the knowledge of a geneticist or the commitment of a whole community to a clean environment.
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, a sudden and unexplained death of a baby, is responsible for the loss of some area babies. Research has shown parents ways to decrease the risk, although parents currently cannot reduce the risk to zero.
Accidents and violence also take a toll on babies. This issue is best addressed both by families and the community.
What Families Can Do
This year’s theme for National Infant Mortality Awareness Week is “Healthy Families=Healthy Babies.” Here are some steps women and families can take to increase the chances of a healthy baby who will live and thrive in their arms.
- Decrease the risk of premature birth by every woman taking 400 micrograms of folic acid every day for at least a year before she gets pregnant. To be practical, this means all women of childbearing age should take a multivitamin with folic acid or a plain folic acid pill (costs less than 1 cent a day). Women with anemia or numb feet who don’t have a diagnosis for those problems and women who are vegan (they eat no meat, milk products, or eggs) should check with their doctor first and then start taking folic acid. Folic acid also reduces fatal birth defects of the brain and spinal cord.
- Space pregnancies at least 18-24 months apart to give a woman’s body a chance to prepare not just to get pregnant but to stay pregnant nine months.
- Achieve a healthy weight. Women can ask their doctor or health department or check online for BMI tables to find out about normal weights. Both underweight and overweight women are more likely to develop pregnancy complications that can affect the baby. Obese women also have more birth defects. Healthy Start offers a weekly Stroller Club at Dublin Mall to encourage physical activity and mother-to-mother support. Help is available for women who find it difficult to eat and exercise the right amount for their bodies on their own.
- Get chronic illnesses and conditions under control before pregnancy. These include high blood pressure, diabetes, thyroid problems, lupus, tooth decay, and bleeding gums, among others. Free screenings are often available at local health fairs if a woman doesn’t know her status. Doctor visits are important before pregnancy if a woman has any chronic conditions.
- Smoking, drinking alcohol, using illegal drugs, or misusing prescription drugs increase the risks for prematurity, small-for-dates, birth defects, and other complications for babies. Help is available in Dublin and nearby areas for each of these situations.
- Take the smoke outside. Second-hand smoke increases the risk of premature birth and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, as well as less dangerous but miserable illnesses like ear infections and asthma.
- Labor induction or C-section done electively (for no medical reason), especially before 38 ½ weeks of pregnancy, increases risks of breathing problems, transfer to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, and death. For the health of their babies, women should not request early delivery for convenience or the normal aches and pains of pregnancy.
- Families can practice Safe Sleep to prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), including always putting babies on their backs sleep, never allowing anyone to smoke around a baby, not sleeping on unsafe surfaces with the baby such as sofas, recliners, and water beds, not dressing babies too warmly, choosing a safe crib, and not placing anything but the baby in a comfortable outfit in the crib- no pillows, toys, or thick blankets.
- Breastfeeding helps protect against SIDS and infections, as well as improving the health of the mother, providing the best nutrition, and improving how well babies learn. Mother’s milk can be critical for the survival of preterm babies.
What This Community Can Do
Promote education so that future mothers and other family members are able to read and understand articles like this that can help their babies be safer and healthier.
- And promote education so that future parents will have careers and higher incomes. Increased infant mortality rates go hand in hand with poverty.
- Support local agencies that provide teens with positive activities that will open up their futures and decrease teen pregnancy. Teen pregnancy, particularly repeat teen pregnancy, increase risks of infant death.
- Provide health education to families so grandparents and babysitters can learn about Safe Sleep, how to support a breastfeeding mother, car seat safety, and other information.
- Support the current ban on smoking in businesses and other public places to protect children and unborn babies.
- Participate in Safe Crib programs that make cribs available to parents whose babies have no safe place to sleep.
- Support agencies who assist vulnerable women and families such as United Way, Heart of Georgia Healthy Start, Community Mental Health, DFACS, WINGS, Stepping Stone, Promise of Hope, and the Community Health Centers, among others.
- Commit to clean air, clean water, and a safe environment for all of us.