Infant Mortality… A Few Tidbits for Prevention

Today… approximately 11 Thousand babies will be born in America. For the large majority of these babies, their transition from their mother’s womb to the outside world will take place without a hitch. Born into loving families, they will eat, sleep and cry. They will be held, loved, and nurtured. 366 days later they will be celebrated as they reach the milestone of completing one year of life.

Unfortunately, some of the babies born today will never see that 366th day.  They will die before they reach their first birthday.  These are the babies, THOUSANDS of them who die too soon each year as we continue the fight against Infant Mortality.

Infant Mortality (IM) is a Village Issue, and it IS everybody’s responsibility. While the most common causes of IM fall into three categories, (Pre-term birth/low birth weight, birth defects, SIDS) the actual reasons for these deaths are far, wide, and varied. While all of the infant deaths can’t be prevented, together we can work to reduce our shameful and deplorable rate of 6.8 deaths per 1000 live births. That is approximately 76 babies each day more than 27,000 each year that die before they reach their 1st birthday.

Can ANY of these deaths be prevented? YES! Who do you know that is pregnant, or thinking of becoming pregnant? Do you have sisters, daughters, aunts, or female friends? Share a tid bit with them and you can save the life of their baby.  Do you have a brother, a son, or an uncle who has a baby on the way? The role of fathers often goes unmentioned but is EXTREMELY important.  Share information with them. Let them know that their involvement is also crucial to decreasing the rate of IM in this country.  Below I have shared a FEW bits of information that you can pass on to the ones you love.  Visit the linked websites for more details. Learn more about IM. The Infant life you save may be your own.

Birth Defects:
Birth Defects are the leading cause of IM responsible for a full 20% of all infant deaths. While all birth defects cannot be prevented there are some things that women can do to decrease the risk of having a baby with a birth defect.

BEFORE she is even pregnant, women of childbearing age should be taking a daily supplement that includes Folic Acid, at least 400 micrograms. This is one of the easiest ways to prevent birth defects of the brain and spinal cord (neural tube defects). While many women have heard of folic acid, many still don’t realize taking a daily supplement BEFORE pregnancy is crucial in their prevention.  By the time you discover you are pregnant, it may be too late. Take a supplement today and every day. This can be a life saving measure.

The one birth defect that is 100% preventable is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS.)  If you are pregnant it is wise to stop drinking alcohol.  Individuals all metabolize alcohol differently and so will their growing babies. As a result, there is no good evidence about a “safe” amount of alcohol that can be consumed while pregnant. Therefore, the overwhelming/majority opinion is that women drink ZERO alcohol during their pregnancy.

There are a number of prescription drugs that can cause severe birth defects. If you are on any medications and there is ANY chance that you can conceive be sure to check with your midwife about the safety of the medications you are taking and the potential affect they can have on a developing fetus. Don’t underestimate your chances of becoming pregnant. Again by the time you have discovered you are pregnant, it may be too late.  Birth defects are truly a complex issue. From genetics to environment there are a lot of factors involved.  The March of Dimes has some great information on their website. Get the facts you need BEFORE you conceive. This will ensure your best chances of having a baby free of birth defects.

Premature birth and low birth weight (PMB/LBW)
A premature birth is considered a birth that takes place before 37 completed weeks of pregnancy. While low birth weight (LBW) infants can be born full term, most are born prematurely. While PMB/LBW is the second leading cause of infant mortality overall it is the leading cause of neonatal mortality (the death of an infant in the first 28 days of life.)

In 2004 more than half a million babies were born premature putting them immediately at an increased risk for death before reaching age one. Babies born pre-maturely are 15 times more likely to die in the first year of life compared to infants born full term.  A multitude of factors contribute to PMB/LBW infants.  From cigarette smoking, to diet and exercise, stress, prenatal care, disease, infections… the list is endless.  If you are pregnant make sure you are getting prenatal care and you learn about the signs of preterm labor.  Pre-term labor/birth can’t always be prevented but there are things you can do.  The Mayo Clinic has a simple easy to read list of potential causes and ways to prevent PMB.

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome – SIDS
SIDS is the third leading cause of IM. Fortunately through lots of community education and with the “Back to Sleep Campaign” we have seen improvements in SIDS nationwide.  The Back to Sleep Campaign was started in 1994 and was developed to educate families/communities about the safest position for infant sleep… on their backs. “Since the campaign started, the percentage of infants placed on their backs to sleep has increased dramatically, and the overall SIDS rates have declined by more than 50 percent.”

Is there an infant in your home or in the home of someone you know?  Use this reference list to learn about ways to create a safe sleeping environment for baby and by all means BREASTFEED and check out Dr. Sears list that explains 8 ways breastfeeding decreases the rate of SIDS.

Okay… this is all for today. We are still in the midst of Infant Mortality Awareness Month and while I know the information I am sharing here is limited, it’s enough to get you started and make you AWARE ;-). Like I said earlier… click the links for more information. Remember that Infant Mortality is a VILLAGE issue and we must all get involved.  What will you do to help save a baby today?

In Birth and Love


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