Op-Ed: To Reduce Infant Mortality Rate, Spread Word About Spacing, Smoking, Sleeping
The following op-ed is written by Brent Cooper.
I’m sitting in a presentation by one of my Leadership Cincinnati classmates at the UC Alumni Center, and I can’t believe my ears.
Ryan Adcock, the Executive Director of Cradle Cincinnati, tells our class that the local infant mortality rate (IMR) is among the worst in the nation; in the top 10% of the country.
As a volunteer for United Way, I was aware that poverty was a huge problem for our community, where nearly half live below the poverty line (46.3%). But I didn’t know how bad the infant mortality rate was.
I learned the IMR is measured by the number of infant deaths for every 1,000 live births in a defined area. Health professionals consider the IMR a key indicator of the overall health status of a community.
The United States’ IMR is 5.98. To put that in perspective, the national IMR for Japan is 2.3. England’s IMR is 4.2. At 5.98, the United States’ IMR ranks 27th among “wealthy” countries; behind places like Canada, Korea, Poland, and Slovakia.
How bad is it here? In parts of our Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky region, the IMR is nearly twice the national average. The IMR in Hamilton County over the past 4 years averaged out to 9.5. In Kenton County, the IMR is 9.8. While we’ve made some strides in the recent past, it’s still pretty bad.
According to Cincinnati Children’s website, in our region, “On average, one baby dies every three days.”
Health care officials and public policy experts will tell you, the overwhelming reason why our babies are dying at a higher rate is due to preterm births. According to Adcock, “Nearly 75% of infant deaths were babies that were born too early.”
He went on to say, “We know reducing the amount of preterm births will have the biggest impact in reducing the infant mortality rate. We also know that educating the public on the issues contributing to preterm birth’s will go a long way to achieving that goal.”
Then he shared a term that I had never heard before. Spacing.
I would not be surprised if you hadn’t heard of spacing either. It was a new term for the majority of our leadership class.
Spacing refers to the “space” between pregnancies.
According to health officials, it is recommended there be at least 1 year between pregnancies.
That’s one year, from the time a baby is born, before another pregnancy occurs.
Why? Because the trauma the female body goes through during a pregnancy is severe and the body needs time to recover. Without that recovery time, the odds of premature birth dramatically increase.
Pregnant women who smoke are also an issue. Smoking is not only bad for the mother, it is particularly bad for the child. Mothers that smoke are more likely to have premature births and an increased chance of infant mortality.
Finally, another contributing factor to the IMR is how babies sleep after they are born. The safest way for a baby to sleep is on their back, in their crib, and alone. When new mothers sleep with their babies, they can be putting their babies at serious risk.
Of course, these aren’t the only reason babies are born prematurely, or the only reasons for infant mortality. Infections, stress or genetics can all be contributing factors. Healthy women, who take every precaution and do everything right, can still have a premature birth.
But despite the data, one in every five babies are conceived less than 12 months apart.
It seems to me that our community isn’t informed about the issues contributing to infant mortality, and that needs to change.
As Dr. Lynne Saddler, the District Director of Health for the Northern Kentucky Independent District Health Department, points out, “Anything that is going to cause a baby to be born too early or too small is going to put that baby at risk for a poor outcome. So, the healthier the mom can be before and during pregnancy, the better. ”
I’m hoping you’ll help spread the word. Talk about it at your church, school, rotary or business group. Heck, invite Ryan Adcock to come speak! He is a terrific speaker, and very passionate about the issue.
This information needs to be continuously shared, especially in high poverty areas where education and access to care is a struggle.
As we collectively spread the word about the issues of spacing, smoking, and how babies should sleep, we will begin to see a reduction in both costs and collective heartbreak.
This is one more way we can improve the state we are in.