YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Even after years of effort, the infant mortality rate in one Ohio county is still too high.
The infant mortality rate in the United States is supposed to be 5 per 1,000 births. But in Ohio, especially in Mahoning County, rates are nowhere near that. In Mahoning County, that rate is closer to 9 per 1,000 births, almost double the target rate.
Health officials have known it’s been a problem for years. The rate has come down though, but not by much. And for one group of children, the rate is higher than ever.
“Here in Mahoning County for black babies that are born, we have an infant mortality rate of 17.7. So that’s a huge disparity and it really is a crisis that needs to be addressed,” said Michelle Edison with the Mahoning County Board of Health.
By way of comparison, black babies are more likely to die before their first birthday in Youngstown than in Mexico, Thailand or the Middle East.
Before health agencies could address the problem, they first had to figure out what was causing all those babies to die.
The Board of Health found that an unsafe sleeping situation is the number one cause of baby deaths in the area. An unsafe sleeping situation could be babies who are sharing beds with parents or siblings, or those who are tucked into clothing baskets or on couches.
Another cause comes from the health of their mothers. How much the mother knows about being pregnant and what kind of support she has plays a big part in her baby’s health.
“So where the mom lives, works, interacts, her access to resources, things like that, and that plays a big role,” Edison said.
Health officials say women get confusing information about what’s best for their babies.
That’s why several organizations have come together to help make life better for these women and their babies, and babies born to low-income mothers are at the greatest risk.
So, these low-income mothers, along with expecting mothers and those on WIC, can get free cribs for their infants as part of a program to keep babies safe. The Board of Health says every baby needs a crib of its own.
“We feel if we put out the best, the recommended practices of the American Academy of Pediatrics along with the guidelines from the Ohio Department of Health, we will get the message out there and make sure the parents understand that babies need to be on their backs, by themselves and in their own safe sleeping space,” said Erica Horner of the Mahoning County Board of Health.
The county is on pace to hand out nearly 200 of these cribs this year. They’re available to families who make less than $46,000 a year.
Over the past three years, the infant mortality rate has inched down to about 8.3 per 1,000 births, down from nearly 10. The goal is to get that rate lowered to six.