"The good news is that deaths from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome continued to drop. There were eight deaths in 2004, down from 21 in 1995," said Doneen Hollingsworth, secretary of health. "But unfortunately, the infant mortality rate did increase to its highest level since 1999."
The Department of Health is pulling together an ad hoc working group of health professionals to look at the causes of infant mortality in the state and recommend measures to reverse the trend. Members will include practicing physicians representing the South Dakota State Medical Association, and representatives from the Department of Pediatrics at Stanford School of Medicine of The University of South Dakota and the Aberdeen area Indian Health Service. The group will begin meeting in early 2006.
There were 93 infant deaths in South Dakota in 2004, or a rate of 8.2 per 1,000 live births. That's well above the United States rate of 6.6 infant deaths per 1,000 live births for the same year (provisional data).
Hollingsworth said there was a significant disparity by race with the infant mortality rate for American Indians double that of whites, 13.3 per 1,000 live births compared to 6.9.
The data points to tobacco use and the lack of early prenatal care as major risk factors for low birth weight and pregnancy complications which can result in infant death. The infant mortality rate of babies born to mothers who used tobacco during pregnancy was much higher than for non-users, 12.8 deaths per 1,000 compared to 7.2 for infants whose mother did not use tobacco.
There was also a strong link between early prenatal care and a lower infant mortality rate. The lowest infant mortality rate was among mothers who started prenatal care in their first trimester, 6.9 per 1,000 live births. The highest rate, 59.4, was among mothers who had no prenatal care.
"The numbers clearly point out that early prenatal and quitting tobacco use are important steps pregnant women can take to increase the chance of having a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby," said the secretary.
Hollingsworth said the department's 2010 initiative calls for reducing the state's infant mortality rate to 6.0 and eliminating the disparity between the American Indian and white populations. Specific recommendations for reaching those goals are to encourage more pregnant women to get prenatal care in their first trimester, to stop using tobacco, and to gain appropriate weight during pregnancy.