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Death rate for Kansas babies rises




TOPEKA -- The number of babies who died before their first birthday in Kansas increased slightly in 2012 after trending downward for nearly a decade, according to a report released this week.

In 2012, 254 babies died; 247 died in 2011. That puts Kansas' infant mortality rate at 6.3 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2012; the rate was 6.2 in 2011.

Accompanying the annual infant mortality report were remarks from Dr. Robert Moser, state health officer and secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

"In past decades, we saw infant mortality counts fluctuating as great as 30 in one year. So the increases and decreases reported in recent years aren't as sharp," Moser said. "However, the last five years, in particular, have shown a decreasing trend. Any increase in infant death is significant and important, and that is why KDHE and many other organizations in Kansas are committed to reducing infant mortality through research and community intervention."

According to the most recent nationwide data, Kansas is among the states where the infant mortality rate has dropped the most, falling 15.6 percent between 2005 and 2011. Nevertheless, Kansas' death rate for black infants has been the worst in the nation in recent years.

Kansas' overall infant mortality rate places it at the median of states. Mississippi has the highest rate of infant deaths -- 9.67 per 1,000 live births -- and Alaska has the lowest at 3.75 per 1,000.

Among developed nations, the U.S. rate is fairly high, experts said. Despite declining rates, the U.S. still is 27th among the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries, or 34th among all countries, according to United Nations estimates.

A 2009 CDC report linked "the United States' relatively unfavorable infant mortality ranking to its higher percentage of pre-term births."

"While many babies born before 37 weeks of pregnancy are able to live long, healthy lives, we know that reducing the rate of pre-term births will help us reduce the rate of infant mortality as well as help prevent the life-long health challenges often associated with babies who are born pre-term," Moser said.

"With many programs and interventions across the state aimed at reducing the rate of pre-term births and eliminating health disparities, one intervention is simply encouraging expecting mothers and their doctors to eliminate elective deliveries before 39 weeks."

Earlier this year, KDHE and the March of Dimes announced two initiatives to lower the rates of premature births.

One initiative is aimed at educating mothers and encourages them to seek prenatal care using incentives such as free groceries, cribs and car seats.

The other is aimed at reducing early elective deliveries -- those that are non-medically necessary, typically done between the 36th and 39th weeks of pregnancy for the convenience of the family or the physician, said Diane Daldrup, state director of the March of Dimes.

"These early elective deliveries are just a few weeks early, but they have significant impact on the baby. Lungs may not be fully developed, the brain size isn't the same, there are respiratory issues. This is a group of babies that are quite often the repeat readmissions into the hospital because they have complications after they go home," Daldrup said, noting a full-term pregnancy is 40 weeks -- not nine months as commonly believed.