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Ky. infant mortality rate lowers as national rate increases

The national infant mortality rate has risen in the last year, but Kentucky’s rate is on the decline.

According to preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the national rate at which infants died before their first birthday rose from 5.44 deaths per 1,000 births in 2021 to 5.6 deaths per 1,000 births in 2022 — an increase of nearly 3%.

In comparison, Kentucky’s infant mortality rate fell from 6.15 deaths per 1,00 births in 2021 to 5.77 deaths per 1,000 births in 2022. Kentucky’s rate decreased by around 6% in the last year, yet it remained higher than the national average rate.

Dr. Connie White is the Deputy Commissioner for Clinical Affairs at the Kentucky Department of Public Health. Prior to her current role, she spent over twenty years as a practicing OB/GYN– a doctor of obstetrics and gynecology. White said the change in the state’s infant mortality rate isn’t the result of a singular solution but the combination of many different factors.

Dr. Connie White, Deputy Commissioner of Clinical Affairs at Kentucky Department for Public Health
Kentucky Department for Public Health
Dr. Connie White, Deputy Commissioner of Clinical Affairs at Kentucky Department for Public Health

“If there was just one thing we needed to do for each problem we had, we’d fix everything pretty quickly,” White said. “It's the combination of lots of outreach [and] behavioral changes.”

White said in the past year, she’s seen an increase in breastfeeding, a decrease in low birth weight infants and a decrease in preterm deliveries, all contributing to higher chances for an infant’s survivability.

“We've had a decrease in our smoking rate of pregnant patients. We are down now to 10.5% [of pregnant patients who smoke] which is the lowest we’ve seen I think since we've been monitoring this,” White said.

All of these factors help to combat what White said are Kentucky’s top three causes for infant mortality in the last year: the side effects of preterm births; congenital defects; and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

While the decreasing rate is good news, White said there is still more work to be done to bring the number down to the ideal rate of zero percent. She said the “most alarming” fact is that most infant deaths could’ve been avoided with a preconception visit to the doctor.

“For example, if we could get patients to come in for that ‘preconceptional’ care.. visit with the provider, the health care professional before you even try to get pregnant,” she said.

Some of the changes White said pregnant individuals can take before the birth of an infant include cutting the use of substances like tobacco and alcohol. Pregnant people also can make sure they’re up-to-date on vaccines both before and during pregnancy.

As the holiday travel season approaches, White encourages those traveling with an infant to remember Kentucky’s ABCD of Safe Sleep for infants.

“A stands for the baby should be sleeping alone and not in a crib with lots of stuffed animals and suffocation risks. They should be laying on their back– that's the B. C is the crib; it should be clean and clear,” White said. “And in Kentucky, we've added D, and the D in our ABCs of Safe Sleep stands for danger. Being impaired while you're taking care of a child,…. sharing a bed space, all of those things put the baby in danger, and those are things that we can help to prevent.”

Zacharie Lamb is a music major at Murray State University and is a Graves County native.
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