Balloon release memorializes Infant Mortality Month
Black balloons were launched into a bright blue sky on Wednesday, Sept. 27, memorializing and honoring babies who could not be there.
The event, sponsored by Family Solutions of the Lowcountry, was to remember infants who were born but did not survive to their first birthday. Infant Mortality Month is observed each September but is a year-long effort. According to 2015 data accrued by the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC), there were 402 babies born in South Carolina who died before their first birthday.
According to Barnwell Pediatrics physician Abe Moscow, the causes of infant mortality are varied including Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), prenatal and postnatal health issues, and some accidental deaths.
“As you know, our most precious commodity is our children,” said Dr. Moscow. “It’s a commodity that you can’t put a price on. Our children are our future. They represent future generations – their children and grandchildren. So it is important for every child to get a perfect start.”
The good news is that infant mortality rate nationwide has fallen by 15 percent in the past 10 years. The National Center for Health Statistics reported that SIDS has dropped by 29 percent. Unfortunately, according to Family Solutions Director Virginia Berry White, the rate in South Carolina is starting to creep back up.
Dr. Moscow said South Carolina’s infant mortality rate is 7 per 1,000 births.
At the gathering of Family Solutions employees outside the Barnwell County Health Department, Moscow said their work in family planning and education “is vital” in reducing unplanned pregnancies and assisting parents.
One factor impacting infant mortality is teen pregnancy. “Teenagers are more likely to have small and premature babies,” said Moscow.
Another factor is to know how to place infants to sleep. He said remembering “back to sleep” is helpful, meaning infants should be placed on their backs on a firm mattress in bassinets or cribs. Babies sleeping on their stomachs, particularly on soft surfaces, can exhale carbon dioxide which can get trapped in pockets. “They then rebreathe that carbon dioxide” which short-circuits brain activity and “forget to breathe” and die.
Pillows and crib bumpers should not be used as they can accidentally suffocate a baby. “Nobody should have those (bumpers). They are dangerous,” said Dr. Moscow.
Moscow cautioned parents to not put infants in bed with them. “Parents don’t mean to (harm their baby) but can roll over in their sleep on top of the baby,” he said. “If you do, use a box.”
Researchers have found that a simple and inexpensive method of keeping infants safe is a cardboard box with a firm pad. “Some hospitals send babies home with items in the box but the box itself can be used as a cradle,” said Moscow. “Parents can put their arm across the top” and easily reach their infant.
Family Solutions Director Virginia Berry White said they are able to provide “pack and play” portable cribs to eligible families.
White said a measure of any community is its infant mortality rate and FSL works daily to improve women and family health. “If we have a low infant mortality rate, then the health of our community is great,” she said.
She said African-American babies are dying at 2.5 times the rate of Caucasian babies. Additionally, the rate of babies with low birth-weight is on the rise, making these babies more susceptible to death and illness.
“Many of these mothers are going into their pregnancy unhealthy,” said White. “Chronic illnesses, hypertension, diabetes, sickle cell – those things that really impact a pregnancy. What we have been doing for the last 20 years is looking at what we can do to get our community healthy.”
Additionally, pregnancies that are “mistimed” or unplanned, increasing the chances of infant mortality.
“We don’t want any infant to die,” said White. That’s why during the month of September the organization tries to make the community aware of the problem. “We all can take a part in it,” she said. “We need to be a community that takes care of each other.”