For every 1,000 Mississippi babies born in 2011, ten died before their first birthday. Mississippi has the highest infant mortality rate in the nation, making them more comparable for countries such as Costa Rice, Sri Lanka, and Botswana.
This isn’t a new development.
State health officer Mary Currier notes that Mississippi has held 50th place out of the 50 states for years, and no one is really sure why.
There is not one clear explanation for the high death rate of infants. While experts cite a host of factors, many of these factors are seen all around the nation, not just in Mississippi. One theory is that Mississippi leads the nation in obesity. Obesity carries with it a host of complications that might affect a baby, such as hypertensive disorders, gestational diabetes, and others.
Dr. Michelle Owens is an obstetrician-gynecologist at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. In general, cites Owens, many pregnant women don’t realize the importance of “getting their own medical problems treated.” Other Southern states, such as Alabama and Louisiana, also have a high prevalence of obesity, and a corresponding high infant mortality rate. A 2010 study found that overweight and obese women are at a higher risk for preterm birth, which presents a host of dangers to an infant.
“We know that the way we get the best pregnancy is to have a healthy mom before mom and baby are together,” Owens said.
Birth defects are the leading cause of infant death in the United States. While not all are preventable, mothers can reduce risks by taking care of their own health. Keeping health under control by eliminating smoking, alcohol use, and illegal drugs can help lower the risk of birth defects.
The same is true for premature births, which is another leading cause of infant deaths in the US. Mississippi has the highest premature birth rate based on the March of Dimes Premature Birth Report Card. Alabama and Louisiana also failed.
Experts suggest that poverty problems contribute to the poor health of babies and pregnant women. Mississippi led the country with the highest percentage of people whose income was below the poverty line, states the American Community Survey.
Currier states, “Infant mortality goes along with poverty, and we have a pretty low average income in the state.”
Other factors include high rates of teenage births, Medicaid receivers, and uninsured families. Babies born to teen mothers are more likely to be premature and have low birth weights, with lack of prenatal care being one of the primary reasons.