Indiana Gov. Mike Pence opened the state’s Infant Mortality Summit last week by sharing a personal story: He and his wife had struggled with infertility issues early in their marriage, so the eventual arrival of their three children was met with deep gratitude and appreciation.
“Anybody who knows me, knows I have Ph.D. in ‘Dad,’” he said. Pence went on to promise his audience of public health officials that a key goal of his administration will be to reduce the number of babies in Indiana dying before their first birthday.
It’s an ambitious goal. Over the last decade, Indiana’s has dropped from 32nd to 45th in the nation in infant mortality rates. A ranking that Pence called “deplorable.”
There are multiple causes for the state’s high rate, of 7.7 deaths for every 1,000 live births, with many linked to the state’s poor overall health and the lack of access to health care.
A majority of babies less than 1-year-old die due to complications related to birth defects, premature births or a mother’s weight, age or illness. More Hoosier women smoke while pregnant — almost 17 percent in Indiana versus 9 percent nationally — and they’re more likely to obese.
Indiana mothers are also less likely to breastfeed; more likely to sleep in the same bed with their infants, putting babies at risk for suffocation; and increasingly likely to have doctors who are electing, for convenience rather than medical need, to deliver babies before they reach full term. Also: more than one-third of pregnant women in Indiana don’t get any prenatal care during the critical first trimester.
“Indiana is consistently one of the worst in the U.S.,” said Indiana Health Commissioner William VanNess. “It’s not that a lot of good people haven’t worked on this but we haven’t been able to stop the heartbreak.”