The Ohio infant mortality rate continued to improve in the latest state report, though a wide gap still remains between the rate of black and white babies who make it a year to celebrate their first birthdays.
Ohio’s infant mortality rate — the number of babies who die before age 1 per 1,000 live births — was 6.9 for 2018, the Ohio Department of Health said Tuesday. That is higher than the 2017 national rate of 5.8.
The Ohio rate has declined from 7.2 deaths per 1,000 births in 2017 and 7.4 in 2016. The rate among black infants fell to 13.9 in 2018 from 15.6 in 2017. The Ohio and national goal is 6.0 or fewer infant deaths per 1,000 live births in every racial and ethnic group.
The rates translate into terrible loss and grief for Ohio families who lost 938 babies in 2018, 982 babies in 2017, and 1,024 in 2016.
RELATED: Ohio’s overall infant mortality drops as black rate jumps
“While there are indications of promising progress, there is much more that we must do to help more Ohio babies reach their first birthdays, particularly African-American infants given that the black infant mortality rate hasn’t changed significantly since 2009,” said Gov. Mike DeWine, who has made infant mortality prevention a top priority.
DeWine supported Ohio’s home visiting programs in the 2020-2021 state budget, investing an additional $30 million over the biennium and bringing total state funding for home visiting to $70 million over two years.
The leading causes of infant deaths in Ohio in 2018 were prematurity-related conditions, birth defects, external injuries, SIDS and obstetric conditions.
“We can help more Ohio babies reach their first birthdays by addressing infant mortality risk factors like the health of the mother before pregnancy, pre-term birth, access to prenatal care, and safe sleep practices,” said Ohio Department of Health Director Amy Acton. “Although there were fewer prematurity-related infant deaths in 2018, prematurity-related conditions remained the leading cause of infant death in Ohio, comprising almost one-third of deaths.”
Black women are at a higher risk of experiencing high stress levels that can lead to preterm birth and a low birth weight delivery.
The infant mortality rate is widely accepted as one of the most sensitive indicators of the health of a community. The Dayton Daily News previously reported that the infant mortality rate is an indicator that reflects the range of what mothers and infants in a community are experiencing, from access to health care and education, to encounters with violence, to economic security.
RELATED: Once homeless, doctor now leads Ohio Health Department
Several Montgomery County programs were recently awarded funding to help babies live to their first birthday, including Public Health - Dayton & Montgomery County, the Family Wellness Community Health Worker Project at Catholic Social Services of the Miami Valley, Help Me Grow Brighter Future, Five Rivers Health Centers, Miami Valley Organizing Collaborative’s Community Hope Project, and the Wesley Community Center.
RELATED: Gov. Mike DeWine on Ohio’s infant deaths: ‘This must stop’
Public Health – Dayton & Montgomery County and the EveryOne Reach One Maternal & Infant Vitality Task Force are also launching a free Safe Sleep Ambassador training program.
In 2019, there were 10 infant deaths related to unsafe sleep practices in Montgomery County.
Safe Sleep Ambassador participants attend one of the free training session at Community Health Centers of Greater Dayton’s Drew Health Center, at 1323 W. Third St. in Dayton from 9-11 a.m., either Feb. 29, March 28, April 25, May 30 and June 27. To register visit www.phdmc.org. For questions contact Angela Grayson at (937) 496-6831.
Proper safe sleep procedures will be taught as part of the classes. Babies should always sleep Alone, on their Back and in a Crib. There should be nothing loose placed in the crib, such as blankets or toys which may cause the baby to suffocate. Parents should not sleep with their child, either in bed or on the couch.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown introduced two pieces of legislation to increase access to the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC). Access to WIC and good nutrition can help reduce the risk of heart disease, minimize maternal complications, and reduce the risk of low birth weight – a leading factor in infant mortality, Brown’s office said.