Drop reported in Central Carolina infant death rate
The statewide infant mortality rate has been climbing since it hit a record low in 2010, according to new data released Thursday. But although the state's rate has been increasing, the data shows that the rate of infant deaths in local counties generally went down.
Infant mortality is defined as the death of any child less than one year old. In 2012, according to the new report, 883 infants died in North Carolina, for a rate of 7.4 deaths for every 1,000 births. The state's rate was 7.2 in 2011 and 7 in 2010, the lowest it has even been. The national infant mortality rate in 2011, according to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, was 6.05 deaths per 1,000 births.
Eight infants in Lee County died in 2012, for a rate of 9.7. The figure was a decline from 2011's rate of 14.5, when 12 infants died. The state, however, warns that rates in smaller counties are unstable: Small changes in numbers can lead to big changes in rate.
Like Lee County, Moore and Chatham counties also saw a decreases last year — Chatham County declined from five deaths to four (and rates of 7.8 to 6.6), and Moore County declined from seven deaths to three (and rates of 7.2 to 3.2).
Harnett County, on the other hand, saw an increase in both infant deaths, from 11 to 16, and in the infant mortality rate, which rose from 6.2 to 9 deaths per 1,000 births.
Dr. Steven Pattishall, a pediatric intensivist at Central Carolina Hospital, said two main culprits are responsible for infant deaths: complications from illnesses and mystery causes such as sudden infant death syndrome.
Accidents can also be deadly. More infants in North Carolina were killed accidentally in 2012 than died of sudden infant death syndrome and several other causes.
Pattishall said people can take steps to try to prevent infant deaths — especially sudden infant death syndrome, which often occurs after the baby has been put to bed.
"There's been a big campaign for making sure babies are put to sleep on their back, face up, and making sure to remove things from the crib that could be choking risks," Pattishall said. "It also helps to remove tobacco smoke from the house."
Wendy Weston, a registered nurse and the nurse manager at Sanford Medical Group, said the doctors at her practice give similar advice. She added that not smoking around the baby is good, but it isn't good enough; parents should never smoke during pregnancy and, if they smoke afterward, they should go outside and change their clothes before interacting with the baby.
Some infant deaths aren't preventable, she said. But many are, and it starts with being proactive.
"First of all, for the pregnant moms: make sure they go for regular OB care and have a healthy pregnancy — no smoking, no alcohol — and make sure they get an update on their TDAP vaccine," Weston said. "That includes pertussis (whooping cough), which is something that's coming back and causing a lot of infant deaths."
She said parents and babies alike should be up to date on all their vaccines, and that babies can get flu shots when they're as young as 6 months. Infants should also visit the doctor every two weeks or so, Weston said, and can't start soon enough.
"Babies should always, always, always have a pediatrician or a primary care doctor before they leave the hospital," she said.
The Coalition for Families in Lee County also focuses on preventing infant deaths. Families who are interested in their help can call the group at (919) 774-8144 or visit the office at 507 N. Steele St.
According to the state data, nearly half of new mothers were obese or overweight during pregnancy; one in every 10 smoked while pregnant, and 12 percent conceived again within six months of giving birth — all of which can put their babies at increased risk, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.
There's also a racial divide, with black babies in North Carolina dying at more than twice the rate of white babies, the N.C. DHHS reports. That holds true locally, according to state data collected between 2008 and 2012. There was no county-specific data on Hispanic infant deaths.
Harnett County had a white infant mortality rate of 5.5 compared to a black infant mortality rate of 21; Lee County had a white rate of 7 and a black rate of 16; Moore County had a white rate of 4.3 and a black rate of 11. Chatham County didn't have any black infants die between 2008 and 2012, but it also had few black babies born.