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Infant Mortality Rate More Than Just a Health Issue

Many babies die in Indiana because they're born pre-term or because of unsafe sleeping practices. (Carrie Cain)
Many babies die in Indiana because they're born pre-term or because of unsafe sleeping practices. (Carrie Cain)
March 12, 2018

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana's infant mortality rate is dismal, and advocates hope a new law signed by the governor will be a step towards lowering those numbers.

Legislation guaranteeing consistent levels of care for all Hoosier mothers and infants goes into effect July 1. SB 360 creates a system that ensures moms or babies who are high risk go to hospitals or birthing centers that have the proper medical staff and equipment to treat them.

Indiana University School of Medicine doctor and professor Nancy Swigonski said too many babies are dying, and this legislation is just a start towards addressing the problem.

"On average, we have one to two babies dying every day in Indiana,” Swigonski said. “And I think when you say it like that, people will start to understand the enormity of the problem. This isn't a rare event. "

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Indiana has the seventh-highest infant mortality rate in the country, and the fifth-highest maternal mortality rate.

Gabriel Filippelli, director of the Center for Urban Heath at Indiana University, said there are too many high-risk pregnancies. About half of the babies that die in Indiana are born early, and 1-in-8 infant deaths are the result of unsafe sleeping practices.

"The problem comes not necessarily just at the hospital setting, but largely before that: maternal nutrition and health as well as maybe inadequate supervision,” Filippelli said.

Swigonski said she believes individual behavior needs to change, and tackling the root problems of poverty and crime could mean fewer babies dying.

"We need to make sure that all pregnant mothers and babies have adequate nutrition, have adequate housing, have opportunities for employment,” Swigonski said. “We can make a measurable difference based on that."

She said the idea that infant mortality is a cultural problem isn't new. She added that most people don't know the infant mortality rate around the world is tracked by the CIA, because it's considered an indicator of societal stability.

Veronica Carter, Public News Service - IN