Memphis - Gov. Phil Bredesen joined Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton and more than 200 stakeholders from state and county government, and legislative, not-for profit, education, faith-based and the health care communities today to develop and outline a strategy to address infant mortality in Shelby County.
Infant mortality refers to the death of a live-born infant at any point before the first year of life. In 2004, Shelby County’s infant mortality rate (the number of infant deaths per 1,000 live births) of 12.8 was 48.8 percent greater than Tennessee’s rate of 8.6. For seven of the last 10 years, Shelby County has had the highest infant mortality rate in the state.
“While this summit is taking place in Memphis, one to two babies under one year of age may die in Tennessee, and there’s a good chance one or both of them will be in Shelby County,” said Gov. Bredesen. “Making a meaningful difference in modifying behaviors, lifestyles and conditions that affect birth outcomes will take community collaboration. There is something every single family member, neighbor and friend can do to help combat infant mortality.”
"This situation is urgent and for that reason, the summit will be a true ‘working’ summit. We have held numerous sessions throughout the Shelby County community to ascertain precisely what hurdles must be overcome and what resources are required to do so,” said Mayor Wharton.
“We realize that any successful solution will involve multiple disciplines and have met with the faith-based, medical and social work sectors of our community. Everyone who participates in this summit will leave with a clear plan for a concrete course of action.”
Overall, Tennessee’s infant mortality rate is one of the worst in the nation, ranking 48th compared to other states. Only Louisiana (49) and Mississippi (50) have worse infant mortality rates. The infant mortality rate for Tennessee’s African-American babies is more than two-and-a-half times the rate for white babies.
Factors that can increase the risk of infant mortality include low birth weight (babies weighing less than five pounds, eight ounces); a mother’s lack of high school diploma or equivalent; a mother’s lack of prenatal care and/or use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs; and improperly placing babies on their stomachs to sleep.
However, planned and properly spaced pregnancies, early and regular prenatal care, breastfeeding, strong family support, regular exercise, avoidance of alcohol and drugs, women of child-bearing age knowing to take folic acid, and safe sleep practices are essential components in reducing infant mortality.
Also, racial disparities exist in infant mortality. African-American babies are twice as likely to die before their first birthday as white babies, and black mothers are also twice as likely to receive inadequate or no prenatal care as white mothers.
Further, black infants die more than twice as often as white infants from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), which is associated with poor sleep practices for babies.
“For the last few years in Tennessee, at least 680 babies died before their first birthday,” said Health Commissioner Kenneth S. Robinson, M.D. “The Department of Health is committed to addressing the prevalence of infant mortality and significantly reducing its rate in Tennessee.”
The Governor’s Office of Children’s Care Coordination, the Governor’s Children’s Cabinet and the state Department of Health continue to explore and develop new partnerships and collaborations with other state governmental agencies; local, municipal and county governments; community-based organizations; and business and faith-based communities that share the vision of seeing more babies survive to their first birthdays.