November 5, 2013

OUR VIEW: Come together to save babies


---- — It was with heavy hearts we reported on the state’s first-ever Infant Mortality Summit last week. On the surface, hearing about the many children who don’t make it to their first birthday is disheartening.

It leaves you asking how is it possible that Indiana has one of the worst infant mortality rates in the nation?

Indiana’s rate of 7.7 deaths out of every 1,000 babies born in 2011 (the latest numbers available) puts it above the national rate of 6.05 deaths per 1,000 births. In fact, we’re sixth highest in the nation.

That’s hard to hear.

But wait, there’s more. When you dig deeper and see that Cass County’s rate is even higher — at 9.9 infant deaths per 1,000 live births — it’s devastating. We rank fourth highest in the state.

We can’t think of a worse category to be a state leader in.

A big part of the problem, according to those gathered for the summit, is women smoking during pregnancy. In Indiana, almost 17 percent of pregnant women are smokers. That’s way up from the national rate of 9 percent.

It’s even worse in Cass County, where just over 20 percent of mothers reported having smoked during their pregnancies.

So what’s the big deal about smoking during pregnancy? Well, it has major consequences:

• Twenty percent to 30 percent of the cases of low birth weight babies can be attributed to smoking.

• Women who smoke during pregnancy have more than twice the risk of delivering a low birth weight baby.

• Babies of mothers who smoked during pregnancy have twice the risk of SIDS than infants of nonsmoking mothers.

• Women who smoke have a higher incidence of ectopic pregnancy.

• Pregnant smokers also have a 30 percent 50 percent higher risk of miscarriage than nonsmokers.

Every birth is a miracle. If you’ve ever seen a newborn baby, you know how fragile life is. These babies are our most precious resource and need every fighting chance they can get. What they certainly don’t need is a disadvantage from the start, which is what smoking during pregnancy does.

They say it takes a village to raise a child. Well, we need that village now. Infant mortality rates are our community’s problem, and as such, we the community need to come together to solve it.

That holds especially true as tackling the infant mortality rate comes at a time when resources are declining. State and county health departments will continue to see budget cuts. Indiana’s Tobacco Prevention and Cessation Commission is also seeing budget cuts.

That means we as a community need to lead the fight against infant mortality. We need the village to come together and get to work on a fix to save our babies.