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Raising awareness of infant mortality

Fri September 23, 2016

DUPAGE COUNTY-The DuPage County Health Department (DCHD) is joining the Illinois Department of Public Health, EverThrive Illinois, and other healthcare partners throughout Illinois and the United States to raise awareness during September of the high rate of infant mortality.  September is National Infant Mortality Month and has been sponsored since 1991 by the National Healthy Start Association.

Infant mortality is defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as the death of an infant before his or her first birthday. Unfortunately, over 23,000 infants died during 2014 in the United States. The loss of a baby remains a sad reality for many parents and takes a serious toll on the health and well-being of families.

Fortunately, most newborns grow and thrive. However, for every 1,000 babies born in the United States, almost 6 die during their first year. This figure, 6 deaths for every 1,000 births, is referred to as the infant mortality rate. "The infant mortality rate is commonly accepted as a measure of the general health and well-being of a nation, because factors affecting the health of entire populations can also affect infant mortality rates," said Karen Ayala, DCHD Executive Director.

The U.S. infant mortality rate in 2014 was 5.8, and overall Illinois ranks 26th among the 50 states with an infant mortality rate of 6.6 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2014. Disparities still exist; there are differences in infant mortality by age, race, and ethnicity.  

The DuPage County infant mortality rate has decreased by 11% over the last five years, rom 5.7 infant deaths per 1,000 live births in 2010 to 5.1 in 2014. While the 2014 infant mortality rate increased from 2013, it remains below the Healthy People 2020 national health goal of 6.0 set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2010.

Preterm birth, or being born too early (before 37 weeks of pregnancy), is the biggest contributor to infant death. In 2013, more than one third (36%) of infant deaths in the United States were due to preterm-related causes. Other contributors to infant mortality include:  low weight at birth, birth defects, pregnancy  complications for the mother, sudden unexpected infant death and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), and accidents (unintentional injuries)

Although medical advances over the last 60 years have helped save babies and dramatically reduced infant mortality, the United States still has a relatively poor global standing compared with other developed nations. A main reason for this is because the United States has a high percentage of preterm births which contributes to a higher infant mortality rate.  

The good news is we can help reduce infant mortality among babies born preterm by addressing key risk factors such as prenatal smoking that contribute to low birth weight, preterm delivery, preterm-related death, and SIDS. Also, parents and caregivers can reduce the risk of SIDS and other sleep-related causes of infant death by taking action to create safe sleep environments. 

The Health Department promotes several community-based maternal and child health programs that focus on the reduction and prevention of infant mortality, racial disparities, and low birth weight. These programs, such as Better Birth Outcomes (Great Start), Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), and case management programs, provide outreach and coordination of health services toward goals of a healthy pregnancy, healthy baby, and healthy early childhood. Outreach is prioritized for households with risk factors or special needs, with over 40,000 women and children participating in programs to reduce premature death and improve health outcomes.   A healthy pregnancy begins before conception and continues with appropriate prenatal care and addressing health problems if they arise. For questions about the Health Department's maternal and child health services, please call (630) 682-7400.

What Can You Do?

It is important for all women of child-bearing age to adopt healthy behaviors such as:

  • Taking folic acid
  • Maintaining a healthy diet and weight
  • Getting regular physical activity
  • Quitting tobacco use
  • Not drinking excessive amounts of alcohol or using "street" drugs
  • Talking to your health care provider about preventing and managing chronic diseases
  • Talking with your health care provider about taking any medications
  • Visiting your health care provider at the recommended scheduled time periods for your age and discuss if or when you are considering becoming pregnant
  • Using effective contraception correctly and consistently if you are sexually active, but wish to delay or avoid pregnancy
  • Getting help for intimate partner violence
  • Preventing injuries and considering the safety of your home and family (e.g., wearing a seat belt, learning CPR, installing and testing smoke alarms)             

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