Addressing Infant Mortality on World Prematurity Day

The birth of a child is a cause for celebration. For most families, a new baby brings feelings of excitement and anticipation for the future. Unfortunately, one in every nine babies born in the United States is premature. For these families, the exciting new challenges of feedings and changings may quickly be overshadowed by the emotionally taxing challenge of navigating their children’s health complications and uncertainty about the future. Nearly 70 percent of babies who die before their first birthday are preemies, and for those babies who are lucky enough to survive, premature birth often results in other lasting consequences, such as respiratory issues or intellectual disabilities. November 17 marked World Prematurity Day – a time to raise awareness about the risk factors of premature birth and highlight efforts to prevent it.

Sen. Brown speaking at Akron Children’s about combatting infant mortality.

The leading cause of infant morbidity and mortality is premature birth. But, like many other infant deaths, sometimes the underlying cause of death is unclear. My legislation, the Sudden Unexpected Death Data Enhancement and Awareness Act, would enhance our national reporting system to better track stillbirths and sudden unexpected infant and child deaths, allowing us to better identify risk factors to prevent them in the future.

Ohio parents and children would especially benefit from this legislation. For the fourth year in a row, the March of Dimes – a national nonprofit dedicated to ensuring healthy pregnancies and healthy babies – assigned Ohio a “C” grade on its 2014 Premature Birth Report Card. Ohio also has the third highest rate of infant mortality in the nation and the highest rate of infant mortality among African American babies. This is unacceptable. Ohio is home to some of the world’s best physicians and health facilities; we must renew our commitment to supporting pregnant mothers and preventing premature birth and infant mortality.

Sen. Brown speaking at Akron Children’s about combatting infant mortality.

In August, the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine (SMFM), the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), and the American College of Nurse-Midwives (ACNM) wrote to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), requesting the agency review and adopt the professional organizations’ updated guidance on the prevention of premature births, including universal, routine screening for premature cervical shortening mid-pregnancy and the timely use of progesterone treatment for patients at high risk of premature birth. I support these organizations in their efforts to protect the health and wellbeing of infants throughout the country, and I urge HHS to address the guidelines put forth by SMFM, ACOG, and ACNM as part of its efforts to reduce infant mortality.

Mitigating premature birth risk factors and utilizing the data collected by the Sudden Unexpected Death Data Enhancement and Awareness Act are important steps in addressing Ohio’s premature birth rate of 12.1 percent. By coordinating efforts at all levels – local, state, and federal – we can help to ensure that every babies born in Ohio has the opportunity to lead a full and healthy life.