Opelika, Al.– More babies are dying in Alabama, the most since 2008. The infant mortality rate for 2016 was 9.1 per 1,000 live births.
The Alabama Department of Public Health says 537 babies did not reach the age of 1 in the state in 2016. The top three reasons babies are dying remained the same: congenital malformation, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or SIDS and premature births. The March of Dimes gives the state an F when it comes to babies being born too soon.
“I think we had an 11.9 percent prematurity rate, connected with concerns regarding racial disparity, I think probably poverty as well as access to care is a concern in our state,” said Jane Fullum, Chief Nursing officer at East Alabama Medical Center.
Lee County saw an infant mortality rate much lower than the state’s at 5.8. Fullum attributes that number to several factors including the Medicaid Waiver program and Small Wonders program, which provides caseworkers for moms who sign up.
“They have a minimum of two visits, more if they need that to make sure they have access to services, transportation, physician appointments, if they need enrollment, SNAP programs, WIC programs, that type of thing.”
In smaller counties, the infant mortality rate eclipsed that of the state. For example Barbour County’s rate is 10.8, Chambers County 10.9, Macon County 10.8 and Russell County 10.0.
The March of Dimes found disparities in infant mortality by race continue to persist. For black babies, the rate was more than twice that of white infants. It found Black mothers often face challenges related to racism such as inequities in health care, housing, jobs, neighborhood safety, food security and income.
Absent a good pre and post natal program, there are some practical things moms can do for their babies.
“Not sleeping with your baby in the bed that’s a big one there. But having them swaddled close by in a crib on their back, that’s the best sleeping practice,” said Laura Nan Howe, a Labor and Delivery nurse at EAMC.
Some other steps to take: Stop smoking and wait at least 18 months between giving birth and becoming pregnant again.
The news wasn’t all bad for Alabama. The percentage of birth to teens continues to trend downward to its lowest ever recorded of 7.7 percent in 2016. And maternal smoking decreased.