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Infant Mortality declining in Tennessee

September is Infant Mortality Awareness Month

Tennessee Department of HealthNashville, TN – State public health officials are encouraged by recent statistics indicating a decline in infant mortality rates in Tennessee and acknowledge there is still much work to be done. Infant mortality is defined as the death of a child before his or her first birthday. During National Infant Mortality Awareness Month this September, residents of the state should learn what they can do to support mothers of newborns and help babies reach this critical milestone.

“We are definitely making progress as a state,” said Michael Warren, MD, TDOH’s director of Maternal and Child Health. “There were 63 fewer infant deaths in 2009 as compared to 2005. That equates to three additional classrooms of kindergarteners who will have the chance to grow into healthy, productive Tennesseans.”

Although the rate of infant deaths is declining in Tennessee, statistics show the need for continued efforts to improve birth outcomes. The state’s infant mortality rate of 8.0 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2009 exceeds the national rate of 6.7 deaths per live births.   

Many factors contribute to a healthy birth and first year of life. Good health before a woman ever gets pregnant; early prenatal care; avoidance of tobacco and alcohol; high-quality care during labor and delivery, immunizations and other preventive care for the baby and safe practices for the infant such as riding in a car seat, not being exposed to tobacco and sleeping alone on their back in a crib all help create an environment of health for the child.

“We have to think broadly about solving the problem of infant mortality,” said Warren. “We cannot focus on prenatal care alone. Even six to seven months of high-quality prenatal care is not enough to erase the harmful effects of years of poor health choices. We must make sure young girls grow up to be healthy young women who are ready for pregnancy, and that our communities promote safe and healthy lifestyles for infants and families.”

While there is not one single solution that will prevent all infant deaths, the following tips can help reduce the risks of infant deaths:

  • Women of childbearing age should abstain from alcohol, drug and tobacco use.
  • Women who are pregnant should seek prenatal care as soon as they learn they are pregnant.
  • Pregnant women should take a daily prenatal vitamin with folic acid.
  • Practice the ABC’s of safe sleep. Infants should sleep Alone, on their Back and in a Crib. 

Parents should get their infants immunized against life-threatening diseases like pertussis (whooping cough). Parents should also be vaccinated against pertussis and the flu.

Infants should always ride in a car seat, in the back seat, facing the back window.

The Tennessee Department of Health offers a variety of resources for pregnant women. Contact your local health department to obtain a pregnancy test and to determine if you are eligible for Medicaid coverage during pregnancy. A list of all local health departments can be found online at http://health.state.tn.us/localdepartments.htm.

To learn more about immunizations that are beneficial for parents and infants, visit http://health.state.tn.us/Ceds/immunization.htm.

National Infant Mortality Awareness Month is sponsored by the National Healthy Start Association. For more information, visit


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