Alabama is one of the leading states for infant death and mortality within the first year of life. We sat down with Tana-kae Lewis, a Registered Nurse with the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) who works in the State Perinatal Program as the Perinatal Coordinator for the North Alabama region.
Lewis reviews cases of infant death that then go before a group of individuals called the Regional Perinatal Advisory Committee to deliberate and discuss the case. The goal is to identify any gaps in services of care delivered to the mother or baby and make recommendations for improvements in order to prevent future deaths.
Why it Matters
Alabama ranks 46th in the Nation in infant death (before his/her first birthday) per 1000 live births. To confront the State’s high infant mortality rate, the State Perinatal Program was established in 1980 by the Alabama Perinatal Health Act. The following facts were discovered from the Alabama Department of Public Health’s 2021 Infant Mortality Report:
- Alabama had a rate of 7.6 deaths per 1,000 live births.
- Alabama’s infant mortality rate ties for the lowest rate in more than five decades, but still remains higher than the U.S. rate which was 5.5 in 2021.
- Alabama’s three-year infant mortality rate of 7.6, an increase from previous years.
The total infant deaths before reaching 1 year and mortality rates for each year are as follows:
- 2021: 443 infant deaths, 7.6 mortality rate
- 2020: 404 infant deaths, 7.0 mortality rate
- 2019: 449 infant deaths, 7.7 mortality rate
- 2018: 405 infant deaths, 7.0 mortality rate
- 2017: 435 infant deaths, 7.4 mortality rate
The health of a mother and the health of her infant are interwoven. Alabama, like the nation, continues to face an urgent maternal and infant health crisis. In order to help improve these statistics and prevent further tragedies, it’s important to address the factors that contribute to poor maternal and infant health outcomes.
The Top Three Leading Causes of Infant Mortality
Infant mortality rates are an indication of our community’s overall health. According to the ADPH 2020 Infant Mortality report, the three leading causes of infant deaths in our state are:
- Preterm birth/ low birth weight – Preterm births are defined as delivery before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Premature babies may have more health problems, which could require them to stay in hospitals longer than babies that are born full term. According to the 2021 March of Dimes report card, Alabama was graded F with a preterm rate of 12.9%.
The March of Dimes Prematurity report for (revised 2021 data) also found the following:- 1,108 babies on average are born in Alabama per week
– Of those, 146 babies are born preterm (less than 37 weeks)
– 101 are born late preterm (between 36 & 37 weeks) *2021 most recent data
– 22 babies are born very preterm (less than 32 weeks) *2021 most recent data
– In 2021 preterm births were 13.1% of all births *most recent data
– Babies born with low birth weight (less than 5lbs, 5 oz) accounted for 10.5% of all births *2021 most recent data
– In total, preterm and low birth weight accounted for about 17% of all infant deaths in 2020 according to the Alabama Perinatal Report for 2021:
– the number of preterm births increased from 7,309 in 2019 to 7,592 in 202q, which is statistically significant
– the number of low weight births decreased from 6,153 in 2019 to 6032 in 2021.
- Congenital birth defects – Birth defects are health conditions that are present at birth. They change the shape or function of one or more parts of the body.
- Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) – Unexplained death of a baby less than 1 year old. Most of these types of infant deaths occur while the baby is sleeping. Creating a safe sleep environment can prevent SIDS. The safest way for a baby to sleep is Alone on his/her Back in a Crib (ABC’s of Safe Sleep).Babies are the safest when they sleep alone in their beds on their backs in an uncluttered environment. ADPH has a safe sleep Cribs For Kids Program where mothers can get assistance in obtaining a crib.
Ways to Reduce Infant Mortality from the Three-Leading Causes
Knowledge is power. We can help to reduce the incidence of the three-leading causes of infant deaths in our state by:
– educating moms and bringing awareness to the issues that cause infant deaths
– avoiding alcohol while pregnant
– smoking cessation
– avoiding abuse of prescription drugs
– avoiding abuse of street drugs
– taking prenatal vitamins / folic acid if planning to get pregnant or once pregnancy is confirmed
– providing a safe sleep environment for the baby.
– entry into prenatal care within the first trimester or as soon as pregnancy is confirmed.
About the Author:
My name is Tana-kae Lewis, and I am a Registered Nurse with the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) working in the State Perinatal Program as the Perinatal Coordinator for Region 1 (North Alabama). My primary responsibility entails Fetal and Infant Mortality Review (FIMR), which involves the review of an infant’s death that occurs before the first year of life.
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