In recognition of September as National Infant Mortality Awareness Month, County health officials urge all women of childbearing age to plan for a healthy pregnancy BEFORE they become pregnant in order to increase their chances of preventing pregnancy complications and having a healthy baby. Infant mortality refers to the number of infant deaths per 1,000 live births during the first year of life and is considered an indicator of the overall health of a community.
“Despite a recent overall decline in infant mortality, many Black and African American parents are not aware that they are at a far greater risk of losing their baby than other women,” said Dr. Ulder J. Tillman, county health officer. The overall infant mortality rate for Montgomery County declined from 5.3 in 2011 to 5.1 in 2012, according to the most recent data from the Maryland Vital Statistics Administration. At the same time, African American babies died at the much higher rate of 8.2 last year. While the latest data indicates that racial disparities in infant mortality are narrowing, the African American rate is still nearly double that of white infants at 4.2.
In 2012, 54 infants in Montgomery County did not live to celebrate their first birthday. Most of the infants did not survive because they were born prematurely, had birth defects or died from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
Although there is not always a clear understanding of why infants die, there are steps to take that can decrease the risk for infant health problems. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the single most important recommendation is to BECOME HEALTHY BEFORE PREGNANCY.
o Talk to your doctor about your plan to have a baby now or to postpone a pregnancy until you are ready.
o Strive to control new or existing health conditions like infections, diabetes and hypertension.
o Take Folic Acid daily.
o Maintain a healthy weight and exercise regularly.
o Do not smoke or use alcohol or street drugs as these can cause serious harm your baby.
o If using birth control, follow the instructions correctly and consistently.
o Seek early and regular prenatal care. It will help keep mother and baby healthy and allow doctors to identify and treat any concerns like high blood pressure or diabetes.
o Use only medicines a health care provider says are okay.
o Attend prenatal educational programs, especially those that explain what to expect in pregnancy, the benefits of breast feeding, warning signs for preterm labor and how to recognize other signs of pregnancy complications and post-partum depression.
After the Baby is Born:
o Take your baby for regularly scheduled medical check-ups and immunizations.
o Provide a safe sleeping environment for the baby to reduce your baby’s risk for SIDS. Babies should sleep on their back and alone in a crib or Pack n' Play without pillows, toys, bumper pads, or blankets.
o Seek the support of community health experts for information about safe environments and effective parenting skills.
Montgomery County offers services for uninsured women who need prenatal care. Contact the Service Eligibility Unit in Germantown, Rockville and Silver Spring by calling 311.
Montgomery County’s Improved Pregnancy Outcome Program (FIMR and Community Action Team) hopes this information will alert women and men about the importance of a reproductive health life plan. For a copy of the brochure, “My Reproductive Life Plan”, go to http://bit.ly/1ehivcL.
The metropolitan area is home to excellent health care providers and many are hosting special programs during September to help potential parents have healthy pregnancies. For information about upcoming local health education events and interactive web-based information, please visit local hospital websites.
The March of Dimes (www.marchofdimes.com) and CDC (www.CDC.Gov) also offer excellent resources and information about how to plan a healthy pregnancy.
For more information on the 2012 Maryland Vital Statistics Report, which offers both a State overview of infant mortality trends and information for each County, go to http://bit.ly/1dK0faK.
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