It’s September: let’s sound a rallying cry for preventing infant loss

Today’s guest post on the importance of recognizing Infant Mortality Awareness month is from Kweli Rashied-Henry, Director of Health Equity for the March of Dimes.

It gets me every time – the sound of a baby crying always tugs at my heartstrings. I know it is a common expectation for moms and dads to anticipate the sound of their infant calling out to them. A baby’s cry can signal many things, a need for food, touch, comfort or for someone to take the pain away. For too many parents, that sound goes unfulfilled or is cut short because their infant has passed away. September is the month that reminds us of the importance of infant mortality and the need for more support, resources, education and awareness.

In the US, babies still die before their first birthday at shockingly high rates. Although we have made great strides over the past two decades, many babies do not get a chance to fully begin their lives, let alone thrive. Infant mortality is one factor typically used in healthcare and public health to assess how well we are doing as a society. Approximately 4 million babies are born each year in the US. The 2015 infant mortality rate was 5.9 per 1,000 live births, which is one of the highest among highly developed countries. That means that over 23,000 infants died in the United States in 2015. Premature birth and birth defects are two of the major contributors to the infant mortality rate.

Infant health advocates have long promoted several strategies to decrease preterm birth rates that can ultimately reduce infant death. Care innovation, research, health education, and policy advocacy are strategies that March of Dimes and other national leaders have used to reduce preterm birth rates. However, one of the most alarming trends that has interfered with efforts to reduce premature birth and infant mortality is the persistent racial and ethnic disparities that exist in the US.

For instance in 2015, Black women had a 48% higher chance of delivering preterm than their counterparts, and were more than twice as likely to experience infant loss. Reasons behind these differences are varied and complex. Understanding the relationship between people and the impact that social factors can have on their health is important to achieve health equity — health for everyone, regardless of their income, education or racial/ethnic background. According to the March of Dimes, evidence suggests that social determinants of health, such as socioeconomic status (SES) at both individual and area/community levels (e.g., income/poverty, job status, education), as well as psychosocial factors (e.g. chronic stress, lack of social support) are associated with increased risk of adverse birth outcomes.

Our collective voices are critical to sounding the rallying cry that our babies so desperately need. Let it also include the importance of social supports that all moms and dads rely on to ensure that they are healthy in preparation for having healthy infants. September is the month to remember those babies who have passed away and to act by partnering with others to lend support for infant mortality prevention efforts. Remember a cry is a signal from a baby in need. Let our rallying cry signal the need for all babies to be born healthy, to grow and thrive.