Infant mortality is defined as the death of a child before his or her first birthday and is often used as a measure of the overall health of a community or state. North Carolina's infant mortality rate has dropped tremendously over the years, but statistics show there are still too many babies dying across our state. Each of these statistics has a face and a family.
According to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, 130,886 babies were born during 2007 in North Carolina. That is the highest number of births ever recorded in the state. However, just as more babies were born, more babies died. The statewide infant mortality rate increased 5 percent, from 8.1 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2006 to 8.5 deaths per 1,000 in 2007. And the minority infant death rate continues to be more than double the white rate at 13.9 infant deaths for every 1,000 live minority births in 2007 compared with 6.3 per 1,000 white births. Based on previous years' data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), North Carolina is ranked 44th nationwide in infant mortality.
Such startling statistics in this day and age of new and modern technology, cutting edge birth centers and hospitals may cause one to wonder, "Why are we still losing so many babies in North Carolina?" The leading causes of infant death are: prematurity, low birth weight and related conditions such as respiratory distress syndrome (24.9 percent), birth defects (18.2 percent) and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome - SIDS (8.9 percent).Other less frequent causes of death were homicide or assault, infections and other specific medical conditions.
Researchers, private practice clinicians, public health centers, maternity care coordinators, hospital staff, community health advocates and many others are the heart and soul of the effort that has brought the state's infant mortality statistics to where they are now. In addition, the N.C. Division of Public Health, in partnership with the N.C. Healthy Start Foundation, and the N.C. Office of Minority Health and Health Disparities, and numerous other community-based organizations across the state, are working tirelessly to decrease the infant mortality rate through statewide and targeted educational campaigns and community grants. These grants inform women of childbearing age about the advantages of maintaining and improving their health before, during and after pregnancy.
Being in good health before becoming pregnant decreases risk factors that can negatively affect a women's health and the health of her unborn baby., Because almost half of all pregnancies are not planned, it is recommended that all women of reproductive age strive to reduce their risks and improve their health. Getting regular check ups and health screenings, eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, as well as eliminating stress-related habits such as tobacco use, drug use and misuse of alcohol are some excellent ways women of childbearing age can be healthier.
While continuing to work effortlessly to improve women's health, we can also band together as a community to implement other strategies that are vital in reducing the increasing infant mortality rate. As professional or health and social service providers, or as members of the community we live in, we can make a difference.
Community groups can:
Churches, businesses, families and friends can network to provide support, resources, and use their gifts and talents to help families with infant children.
Some infant deaths can be prevented. However, major obstacles such as lack of health insurance and access to health care, high rates of poverty and lack of education continue to be serious barriers in our state. For years these challenges have served to increase major health disparities and continue to contribute to the lost of infant lives in North Carolina. We can do better.
In an effort to involve the community in supporting families and to bring awareness to infant mortality in North Carolina, the national "A Healthy Baby Begins with You" campaign held its kick off on September 20th in Weldon N.C. at The Centre on the campus of Halifax Community College. This celebration was sponsored by the N.C. Division of Public Health - Women's Health Branch, National Office of Minority Health, N.C. Office of Minority Health and Health Disparities, N.C. Healthy Start Foundation, Halifax Community College and communities in the northeastern and eastern parts of North Carolina. The event was designed to raise awareness of infant mortality, its' affect on the family and to share resources that positively impact on the lives of families. Tonya Lewis Lee, the national spokesperson for the "A Healthy Baby Begins with You" campaign, delivered the keynote address. Lee stressed community involvement saying " that it takes a whole village to decrease the rising rate of infant mortality."
2005-07 Infant Mortality by Race/Ethnicity
Source: N.C. Center for Health Statistics