Smoking blamed for high infant mortality rate
FORT WAYNE, Ind. -- Health officials will use a publicity campaign to educate pregnant women about the dangers of smoking, a factor blamed for pushing the local infant mortality rate above state and national averages.
A new study by Allen County's Infant Mortality Task Force said smoking by pregnant women appears most prevalent within the black community. It also cited teen pregnancy, single motherhood and placing babies improperly inside cribs for the growing number of infant deaths.
Allen County's infant mortality rate rose to 9.5 per 1,000 in 1998 from 8 the year before. The state rate last year was 7.5 and the national rate was 7.2. Any child in its first year of life is considered an infant. The 1999 data is not yet available.
Meanwhile, 21 percent of women in Indiana smoked during pregnancy in 1998, compared to 13.2 percent nationally, task force members said.
"We know that prenatal care and education about a healthier lifestyle is the key to improving infant mortality," said Marsha Wetzel, Allen County coordinator for the Indiana Perinatal Network.
An advertising campaign at bus stops and on TV stations organized by task force members will provide information about the dangers of smoking during pregnancy and the importance of prenatal care.
Fort Wayne hospital officials said expectant parents should take advantage of educational programs, some of which are offered free of charge.
"There are parent education classes available at all three of the major hospitals," Lutheran Health Network spokesman Geoff Thomas said. "Those are services that are available for future parents to get them prepared for all phases of parenting."
Between 1995 and 1998, the county's infant mortality rate among blacks more than doubled while whites showed a steady but smaller increase. Researchers said they do not understand what caused the racial disparity.
Infant deaths usually are caused by congenital disorders, low birth-weight or sudden infant death syndrome, task force members said.
Because congenital problems such as organ abnormalities rarely can be prevented, health officials said they will try to educate county residents about the causes and effects of low birth weight and SIDS.
Doctors reported finding low birth weight often in the children of single women, teen-age mothers and women who smoke. A baby weighing less than 5 pounds 8 ounces is much more likely to develop disabilities or die within a year of birth, task force members said.
SIDS, the mysterious cause cited when an investigation and autopsy reveal no other explanation of a child's death, also is linked often to parents who smoke, Allen County Coroner Phillip O'Shaughnessy said.
"Ninety-five percent of SIDS deaths in Allen County are smoking-related," O'Shaughnessy said. A baby's improper sleep position or crib decoration also is found with many SIDS cases, health officials said. Very young children should sleep on their backs in otherwise empty cribs, according to the study.
Each of the county's four SIDS deaths this year involved a child placed stomach down in a crib and living in an environment with heavy smokers, O'Shaughnessy said.