In only three years’ time, 85 Lane County families grieved a fetal or infant mortality. Each loss represents a very personal story. September has been National Infant Mortality Awareness Month, and Lane County Healthy Babies, Healthy Communities appreciates the opportunity to share information about the impact of these losses and what our community can do to improve the health and well-being of our families and babies.Lane County claims several disturbing statistics:
- A high rate of fetal-infant mortality: 8.25 deaths per 1,000 births for 2001-2005, including fetal (24 weeks gestation and 500 grams) and infant deaths through the first year of life
- A fetal-infant mortality rate that is higher than the nation, state and comparable counties or metropolitan areas
- The fetal-infant mortality rates are higher, regardless of age, income, education or optimal characteristics
- The greatest disparity in fetal-infant mortality — in comparison to national, state and county data — is the rate of deaths in babies between the ages of 29 days and 1 year
Fetal-infant mortality rates are like the tip of an iceberg. Beneath the surface are health, social and economic factors that work together to continue to put more babies at risk. These rates are a well-established, accepted marker for the health and well-being of a nation, state, region or community.
Consider a very tangible example of how these rates might be used: Companies refer to fetal-infant mortality rates when deciding whether to invest in one community over another. The thinking is that if babies, the most vulnerable among us, are not doing well, how must the rest of the population look? These are serious, pragmatic considerations for potential investors because it gives them a solid sense of how local families, schools and economies are currently functioning.
Fetal-infant mortality is neither an easily isolated nor an individual problem. Ill-defined causes, including sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and accidents, are responsible for far too many of our local losses. Other common factors include late prenatal care, high rates of smoking while pregnant and poor nutrition.
Simple explanations or straightforward solutions are hard to pinpoint. Certainly, access to health care and social services are critically important factors. Efforts to improve access frequently rely on increased funding – a difficult proposition in this economy. Yet, if we delay our local response waiting for the economy to grow stronger, or for state or federal action, we miss the opportunity to start the important work of ensuring that no more babies will be unnecessarily lost.
A significant and positive development is that Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend and McKenzie-Willamette Medical Center will become designated providers of evidence-based infant feeding care by the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative. Baby Friendly-designated hospitals have better outcomes for breastfeeding initiation and duration. Improved outcomes are important for many reasons, including that breastfeeding dramatically reduces the risk for SIDS.
We invite you to do any and all of the following to help create an optimal environment for babies and their families:
- If you are an employer, provide a flexible schedule for new moms and dads to attend well-baby checks. Support breastfeeding by developing policies and practices to accommodate pumping.
- If you are a co-worker, reach out to new moms and dads and help schedule work to accommodate well-baby checkups and pumping.
- If you are a family member, friend or neighbor, ask how you can help. Never smoke around a baby or expose the child to second-hand smoke on your clothing.
- Always put babies to sleep on their backs on a firm surface. Babies should not sleep on soft surfaces such as couches, pillows, waterbeds, recliners or beanbag chairs. Keep soft blankets, toys, bumper pads and pillows away from babies’ sleeping space.
- Join the Lane County Healthy Babies, Healthy Communities Initiative. We are a coalition of community partners developing prevention strategies for reducing fetal-infant mortality and increasing the health of babies in our community. Learn more: http://preventionlane.org/healthybabies.htm
- If, in the last several years, you have suffered the loss of a pregnancy or of a child under the age of one year and would like to help reduce the risk of loss for other moms, please contact Mary Jo Sanders at Mary.Sanders@co.lane.or.us
Katharine Gallagher is a childbirth educator and blogger, and a member of the Healthy Babies, Healthy Communities Initiative, a program of Lane County Health and Human Services. More information is at preventionlane.org/healthybabies.htm. Parenting Now! is a nonprofit organization dedicated to strengthening families through parent support and education. Explore this site; visit us on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or Instagram; or call 541-484-5316. Family Info Line is also available; call 211, extension 5, or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
Join other new parents every Wednesday at Baby Connection, held at Parenting Now! You’ll talk to a lactation nurse, get a photo of your child and meet other new parents. Free! 11 a.m.-Noon. 86 Centennial Loop, Eugene.