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Infant mortality rate up slightly after record low last year

Staff report

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RALEIGH – Following 2010’s sharpest decline on record, North Carolina’s infant mortality rate rose only slightly int 2011 while deaths attributed to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) continued to plummet, according to statistics released Monday by the Department of Health and Human Services.


The 2011 rate of 7.2 deaths per 1,000 live births is the state’s second lowest in history. For 2010, it was a record 7.0 deaths per 1,000 live births.


Since 2008, the infant mortality rate has dropped 12.2 percent from a rate of 8.2 deaths per 1,000 live births.


The health of women before, between and beyond pregnancies directly influences the health of their infants. Continued challenges identified in the 2011 data include:


* Nearly half of pregnant women were overweight (24.3 percent) or obese (23.7 percent). Obesity among mothers continues to be a concern because it increases their risk for Cesarean section delivery, longer hospital stays, gestational hypertension and diabetes, fetal death and birth defects.


* Nearly 11 percent of women reported smoking during pregnancy.


* An 8 percent increase in the Hispanic infant mortality rate.


* A mortality rate among African Americans that is more than twice the rate for whites.


“It is clear that continued focus on programs to promote women’s wellness, especially in our minority populations, must be sustained if we want to make further progress in reducing infant mortality and the number of low birthweight babies,” State Health Director Laura Gerald said. “Women who do not engage in risk behaviors such as tobacco, alcohol and drug use and who are at a healthy weight have a better chance of having a healthy pregnancy.”


North Carolina continues to seek effective ways to reduce infant deaths and to eliminate disparities in birth outcomes:


* Clinical and community programs funded through the Division of Public Health for women of childbearing age that integrate women’s wellness through provision of counseling and referral related to reproductive life planning, healthy birth spacing, smoking cessation, healthy weight, domestic violence, immunizations and the importance of the postpartum visit.


* Trainings by DPH staff and partners (N.C. March of Dimes/Preconception Health Campaign) on best practices in the care of women of childbearing years for health care providers, high school students, teachers and lay health workers.


* Evidence-based programs like Healthy Beginnings, Baby Love Plus and Healthy Start Corps that North Carolina has made to reduce infant death and improve equities in birth outcomes.


Deaths attributed to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) continued a downward trend to 50 in 2011, down from 136 in 2008, according to the data collected by the State Center for Health Statistics. There has been a 60 percent reduction in SIDS rates and deaths since 1994 when DHHS began the Back to Sleep campaign.


The SIDS effort included a bilingual Infant Safe Sleep campaign which emphasized best practices such as a safe sleep environment, breastfeeding, appropriate room temperature, back to sleep positioning and elimination of tobacco smoke exposure. That effort was coordinated by the North Carolina Healthy Start Foundation in partnership with other public and private entities through May 2012.


“The SIDS numbers show the beneficial effects of prevention efforts,” said Dr. Gerald. “But we still have a lot of work to do, particularly with improving some of the disparities that the numbers bear out.”


Small reductions in elective C-section rates have also occurred. With new efforts such as the Pregnancy Medical Home, a DPH partnership with Division of Medical Assistance and Community Care of North Carolina (CCNC); and the Perinatal Quality Collaborative of NC, another partnership effort, these numbers are expected to continue to improve.


The number of births decreased for the fourth consecutive year, dipping from a record in 2007 of 130,886 to 120,403 in 2011. That represents a 1.6 percent decrease from the previous year’s 122,302.

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