Milwaukee Shifts Efforts To Prevent Infant Mortality

Preventing Premature Births Takes Priority Over Safe Sleeping
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Health officials in Milwaukee are shifting their strategy for reducing infant mortality in the city.

Up until now, their efforts were mostly focused on unsafe sleeping conditions, including a provocative safe sleep ad campaign a few years ago garnered national attention. While co-sleeping is still a concern, officials say babies being born too soon and too small is the biggest reason infants die in Milwaukee.

"We for a number of years had a narrative that was really focused on unsafe sleep conditions," said Nicole Angresano with the United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County. "That’s an issue. And we want to honor and talk about that within our work. Certainly there are different perspectives both culturally and medically around co-sleeping. But that is not even near as significant a driver as prematurity."

Angresano said prematurity causes 3 out of 5 infant deaths in Milwaukee. To help prevents that, a coalition of government and nonprofit health groups known as the Milwaukee Lifecourse Initiative announced plans this week to prioritize education for parents about the importance of reducing stress, being as healthy as possible before getting pregnant and spacing pregnancies.

The most recent data from the City of Milwaukee Health Department shows 95 babies died before their first birthday in 2015. The three-year rolling average for infant mortality rates was 9.9 deaths per 1,000 births. The statewide rate was much lower, 5.7 per 1,000 in 2015.

The Lifecourse Initiative is led by United Way. Its a community-wide effort to reduce racial disparities in birth outcomes. It is funded through the University of Wisconsin School of Public Medicine and Public Health from the Wisconsin Partnership Program.

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