In 2017, Indiana had the seventh highest infant mortality rate in the country. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 600 babies passed away in the state in one year alone.
There are many reasons an infant can die within the first year of birth, but a mother’s health is the main factor in determining the outcome of a pregnancy. Recently, Indiana has undergone a large statewide initiative backed by Gov. Eric Holcomb to decrease rates of infant mortality. The legislative measures recently passed include Medicaid coverage of doulas, which are trained professionals who provide physical, emotional and informational support to mothers before and during childbirth. Other legislation includes Medicaid coverage of OB navigators, professionals who help mothers through pregnancy, and the required screening of mothers for substance use disorders.
In addition to this recent legislation, there are many steps mothers can take on their own to improve the health of their newborn. With October being Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, as well as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) Awareness Month, Dr. Cameual Wright, medical director for CareSource, a nationally recognized nonprofit health plan, shares three tips all mothers should know to ensure a healthy pregnancy.
1. Exercise and eat well
According to the State of Obesity, Indiana has the 15th highest adult obesity rate in the nation. Obesity is a risk factor for hypertension, which can lead to poor infant outcomes. Additionally, poor cardiovascular health is one of the leading causes of maternal mortality. Maintaining cardiovascular health is essential for a positive pregnancy. Staying fit throughout pregnancy can also contribute to an easier delivery.
Remaining active is just one part of the equation for healthy pregnancies. Mothers should also be consuming nutritious foods that fuel both their own body and that of their child. Per the CDC, pregnant women should be consuming at least 400 micrograms of folic acid each day to help prevent birth defects. In addition, mothers should take prenatal vitamins as part of a balanced diet.
Some foods to avoid during pregnancy include large fish, unpasteurized items, soft cheeses and deli meat.
2. Avoid smoking and substance abuse
Smoking and substance abuse are strongly discouraged during pregnancy. The American Pregnancy Association found drug use during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage, low birth weight, premature labor, placental abruption, fetal death and maternal death.
Smoking during pregnancy results in many of the same potential consequences. Indiana’s Tobacco Quit Line discovered that in 2016, 13.5 percent of pregnant women in Indiana smoked. This number could result in outcomes as severe as sudden infant death syndrome, otherwise known as SIDS. Mayo Clinic defines SIDS as the unexplained death of a seemingly healthy newborn child, usually during sleep.
At CareSource, we work with expecting mothers to engage them in our case membership services. The case manager will educate the mother on benefits available to her, as well as additional services such as connecting with the Indiana Tobacco Quit Line to help mothers quit smoking for their own health and the health of their child.
3. Ensure sufficient prenatal care
March of Dimes describes prenatal care as encompassing a variety of medical care services received throughout a pregnancy. Examples include vaccinations, prenatal tests, regular checkups, ultrasounds and evaluation of family history.
CareSource works to ensure all pregnant women have access to vital prenatal care. Through programs like CareSource’s Babies First initiative, pregnant and new mothers are encouraged with a financial incentive to participate in healthy habits such as attending regular checkups. CareSource also holds regular Bumps & Babies Family Resource Fairs to provide women with more information and resources on healthy pregnancies. CareSource’s dedicated maternal child health outcomes teams work with OBGYNs and providers to provide this needed care to pregnant women.
The current infant mortality rate in Indiana must be improved. By taking personal ownership over these three simple steps, mothers can set themselves up for positive pregnancy outcomes and healthy Hoosier babies.
Dr. Cameual Wright is the medical director at CareSource.