Infant Mortality In Mid-Missouri


Photos by Yanshu

High infant mortality rates push Missouri counties to take action

It was over twenty years ago that Heidi Bavar Smith got the phone call that would change her life forever; her six-month-old son had died at the babysitters.

“I was at work. He was at the babysitter, and he just stopped breathing,” Smith said.

Michael Taylor, Smith’s first-born son, would have been 21 years old by now.

“You think as a mom the first call you’d get is that he might’ve fallen, got a bruise or broke his arm, not a call saying, ‘Your son’s not breathing and he didn’t make it,’” Smith said.

An autopsy declared Taylor’s cause of death to be Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, otherwise known as SIDS.

Years after Smith’s loss, a report from the Missouri Child Fatality Review Program said SIDS claimed the lives of 13 children under the age of one in 2014.

SIDS typically claims infants one-year-old and younger and most commonly strikes children between the ages of two and four months old.

According to the Mayo Clinic, an infant’s sleep and physical environmental factors, such as respiratory infections or sleeping on a soft surface, may create a greater risk of the child dying from SIDS.

Data from KIDS COUNT shows a source for information on child and family well-being, nearly 20 out of 33 counties in mid-Missouri have infant mortality rates higher than both the state and national levels. While mid-Missouri’s infant mortality rates are high, southeastern Missouri county rates are even higher.

The infant mortality rates in Missouri’s Bootheel counties alone are higher than the national average and are the highest in the state. It has been reported that the Bootheel’s infant mortality rate is at 9.3 per 1,000 live births. Data presented by the Center of Disease Control and Prevention in 2012 said the state of Missouri’s national infant mortality rate was 5.98 per 1,000 birth lives.

Many factors that influence these rates include limited access to health care, lack of health education, poor individual choices and unsafe sleeping habits.

Bootheel Babies & Families, a comprehensive community effort to reduce infant mortality, said each individual case of infant mortality has a different combination of these causes.

To help combat these numbers, parents and communities are seeking out solutions in the form of safer bed frames for infants, such as cardboard boxes lined with miniature mattresses.

This innovation is called a boxinette, originating from the previously existing baby bassinets.

Boxinettes may be new to Missouri, but they date back to nearly 80 years, when Finland established the baby box tradition that gave expecting mothers a box with baby supplies. The original purpose of the boxinettes was to provide things such as clothing and supplies to mothers. The boxinettes have evolved to serve as safe sleeping spaces for infants.

As a result of these baby boxinettes, Finland went from nearly one out of every 10 infants dying before the age of 1, to having one of the world’s lowest infant mortality rates.

Today, the evolution of the boxinette concept has spread worldwide. The new cribs have become a common practice throughout the United States to help decrease deaths caused by SIDS.

Alabama, Ohio and New Jersey make free baby boxinettes available to the families of all newborns in the state.

While it is too early to determine whether or not boxinettes have made a difference in Missouri, hospitals in the southeastern region plan to give out 750 free boxinettes over the next six months. Hospitals received a $200,000 grant from the Missouri Foundation for Health to provide one boxinette to each woman who gives birth at a Bootheel hospital.

In addition to boxinettes, new parents across the country are being given the opportunity to participate in Women, Infants and Children (WIC) programs, a special supplemental nutrition service, assisting families with the improvement of health and nutrition for eligible women, infants and children.

Information provided by the Missouri Department of Health & Senior Services showed pregnant women who participate in the WIC Program experience fewer infant deaths.

For parents who have lost their babies, other programs like Mommies Enduring Neonatal Death, otherwise known as M.E.N.D., serve as a place for support and advice.

M.E.N.D. has helped Smith cope with the death of her child and acts as a resource to mothers who have experienced the same tragedy.

Missouri Infant Mortality Rate Surpasses National Rate

 Even though Missouri’s infant mortality rate, or IMR, has decreased since 2007, the state’s IMR is higher than the national rate. Suffocation, sudden infant death syndrome and death by natural causes all contribute to the definition of IMR. Compare your state’s IMR to other states’ and the national rate.

Infographic by Yanshu