SD first lady says state must reduce infant deaths 

South Dakota must improve pregnant women's access to medical care, teach parents about safe sleep practices for babies and take other steps to reduce the state's infant mortality rate, first lady Linda Daugaard told a legislative committee Tuesday.

The first lady chaired a task force appointed last year by her husband, Gov. Dennis Daugaard. State agencies, community organizations, hospital, clinics, doctors and others will work to carry out the task force's recently issued recommendations for reducing the number of infant deaths, she said.

"I'm confident our recommendations can make a big difference in South Dakota," she told the House Health and Human Services Committee.

Since 2000, 877 South Dakota infants have died before their first birthday, an average of 80 a year, Daugaard said. South Dakota's infant mortality rate in 2000-2010 was 7 for every 1,000 live births, slightly higher than the national average of 6.8.

South Dakota's infant mortality rate also was higher than the neighboring states of North Dakota (5.9), Minnesota (5), Iowa (5.2), Nebraska (5.9) and Montana (6), Daugaard said.

The infant mortality rate among American Indians was twice that of white women, Daugaard said.

The infant mortality rate is higher when women fail to get early care or smoke during pregnancy, the first lady said. In the past five years, slightly more than two-thirds of pregnant women received early care in their first three months of pregnancy. South Dakota also has one of the highest rates of mothers who smoke during pregnancy, as 18.5 percent smoked while pregnant in the past five years, according to the task force report.

Physical defects were the top reason for infant deaths in the past five years, while sudden infant death syndrome was second, according to the task force report. Accidents and extreme premature births also were significant causes.

The task force recommendations include improved access to early, comprehensive prenatal care, promotion of safe sleep practices for babies, development of community support systems for mothers, statewide education campaigns and resources for medical professionals.

Daugaard said pilot programs are being set up in rural areas to provide medical care and information to support groups of eight to 12 women. Some women also need transportation to clinics for prenatal care. Programs on reservations will seek to lower the infant mortality rate among American Indians through home visits by nurses and public education campaigns.

Programs also are being used to warn women that smoking during pregnancy harms babies.

A program will be set up to distribute cribs to low-income families, and education campaigns will tell parents how to put their babies to sleep safely, Daugaard said.

"Infants need to sleep alone in their own beds on their back, with no exposure to smoke, and at room temperature," the first lady said.

State Health Secretary Doneen Hollingsworth said no estimates have been done on how much some of the programs will cost.

Rep. Steve Hickey, R-Sioux Falls, a pastor, said churches also can help with education and other components of the plan to reduce infant mortality. "They need to step up in my view," he said.

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