By Mayor Tom Barrett
Five babies were chosen from the hundreds entered by proud parents from all economic backgrounds, representing every ethnic group in our great city. It was a tough job, choosing just five, but it was a heartwarming experience.
The Strong Baby campaign is aimed at improving the health of babies born in Milwaukee and reducing our abysmal infant mortality rate. But more than just being the face on a billboard, or the side of a bus, these babies represent our hope for all babies born in our city: well-cared for, breast-fed, fully-immunized babies with safe sleep environments who were born full-term to mothers who didn’t smoke, drink or do drugs during pregnancy. These are the babies who have a strong start and a good chance at a healthy, happy and productive life.
September is Infant Mortality Awareness month, and as we close out the month, it is a good time to take stock of where we are, what we’ve done, and what we need to do. Milwaukee ranks as the 7th worst city for infant mortality among the 53 largest cities in the U.S., according to the 2007 Big Cities Health Inventory. And our infant mortality rates are especially high in minority populations: African American babies die at a rate two to three times higher than White babies. So far this year, at least 60 babies have died in our city before their first birthday.
Why are our babies dying? Just over half of infant deaths in Milwaukee are due to prematurity; 18 percent are caused by birth defects; and almost 20 percent are related to unsafe sleeping conditions.
Infant mortality and other poor birth outcomes are obviously bad for any community – – but I am committed to putting the resources and support in place to make a difference and reverse the trend. We are working hard at various levels and through multiple channels to address the causes of infant mortality.
The City of Milwaukee Health Department offers free cribs to families who cannot afford them, and provides home visits to at-risk pregnant women and their families. We have conducted public education campaigns about safe sleep, proper prenatal care, and the importance of breastfeeding and childhood immunizations. We hold annual community summits on infant mortality. And we examine in great detail each infant death and stillbirth, to see what might have been done to prevent it.
This summer, we announced a new partnership with the United Way of Greater Milwaukee. Using our very successful partnership to prevent teen pregnancy (launched in 2008) as a model, United Way and the City of Milwaukee are building a community-wide infant mortality coalition with stakeholders from across the public, private and non-profit sector. To kick off the partnership, United Way announced an initial grant to the City of Milwaukee to support intensive nurse home visiting in a targeted geographic area with the worst birth outcomes in the city: 53206, 53210, and 53216. We are also partnering to find ways to increase the use of prescription drugs, such as 17P and progesterone gel, that can prevent prematurity.
This month, we have intensified the focus on infant mortality. Now that we have the winners of the “Strong Baby” casting call, we are preparing to launch the next phase of that campaign. We staged a safe sleep campaign at Mayfair Mall. We will launch the “Safe Sleep Sabbath,” in partnership with Columbia St. Mary’s hospital, and recognize area organizations that have become Safe Sleep Community Partners.
We are also starting to plan next year’s Infant Mortality Summit, which will focus on the “lifecourse perspective.” This perspective, backed by extensive and increasing scientific evidence, emphasizes that healthy (or unhealthy) birth outcomes are the end product of the entire life course of the mother, from the time she was an infant herself.
Along these lines, we are supporting the Wisconsin Partnership Program’s Lifecourse Initiative for Healthy Families, an important community- wide initiative which is just finalizing its planning phase and will kick off the implementation phase early next year.
All of us have a role to play in promoting healthy birth outcomes and reducing the number of babies who don’t live to see their first birthday: women and families, healthcare providers, social service agencies, government, the faith community, and the broader community. We have to work together toward our goal of all babies born in our city being Strong Babies, with a good start and a great chance at a healthy and productive life.
Milwaukee is a tremendous city, with a long history of solving difficult problems through hard work and an entrepreneurial spirit. Together, we can and will solve this problem.
For further information on infant mortality in Milwaukee, please visit http://city.milwaukee.gov/InfantMortality.htm