With African-American infants dying at significantly higher rates than white ones in Butler County, health officials and some churches will be focusing on the issue in September, which is Infant Mortality Awareness Month.
“Butler County is among the top 10 worse urban areas for infant mortality, especially among our black babies,” said Jenny Bailer, health commissioner for the Butler County Health District. “Analysis tells us that we have too many babies born too small and too early.”
At least 18 churches in six targeted Butler County ZIP codes will distribute educational materials and promotional baby rattles to help emphasize ways parents can ensure their infants reach their first birthdays and beyond. The ZIP codes are 45011, 45013, 45014, 45042, 45044 and 45069.
Fortunately, Butler County infant death rates have been improving the past several years. But officials hope to further decrease the tragedies that claim young lives and devastate families because of the deaths.
While infant mortality rates have dropped significantly for whites during the past five years, they have not for blacks, and have worsened for Hispanics in the county since 2013.
Butler County’s infant mortality rates have nearly been cut in half during recent years:
- 2013 — 9.6 deaths per 1,000 live births (9.8 for non-Hispanic whites; 10.2 for non-Hispanic blacks; and 6.3 for Hispanics);
- 2014 — 8.8 per 1,000 (8.6 for whites; 6.8 for blacks; and 11.5 for Hispanics)
- 2015 — 7.2 per 1,000 (5.6 for whites; 21.2 for blacks; and 7.9 for Hispanics)
- 2016 — 6.9 per 1,000 (4.5 for whites; 16.3 for blacks; and 12.1 for Hispanics)
- 2017 — 5.2 per 1,000 (3.3 for whites; 12.1 for blacks; and 9.2 for Hispanics)
But Andrew Schwartz, epidemiologist for Butler County Partnership to Reduce Infant Mortality, said while the county’s infant-mortality rates have dropped, “there is a large gap between white and black infant mortality with black babies dying almost 4 times more often than white babies.”
The Rev. Ruth Kelly, pastor of Greater Faith Baptist Church in Middletown isn’t sure which Sunday she will address the mortality issue during a service’s morning announcements. That will depend partly on when she receives promotional baby rattles that she will distribute.
“I want to have the rattlers so we can shake them,” she said with a laugh. “I’m going to have them available so the whole congregation will have a rattler, so all the children, all the adults, can celebrate.”
Kelly said her church, in an economically challenged part of Middletown, has about 100 people on its rolls, with 30-50 attending services on a typical Sunday.
“We see single-parent moms that come into the church, and even a couple of single-parent dads,” Kelly said. “Dealing with moms who have needs where some of them deal with having to raise children on their own — some of them don’t have transportation, which is a barrier. Some of them don’t have the health care that they need.”
One of the most helpful services available in Butler County to families, Kelly believes, is United Way’s three-digit telephone number, 211, which can connect families with services including medical care, nutrition help, smoking-cessation classes, and a variety of other services, plus transportation to such services.
Here’s a pregnancy tip many people don’t think about: “Spacing children out properly, to make sure our bodies are healing well before we have the next child,” Kelly said. “Sometimes moms don’t wait long enough for our womb to heal properly before we have our next child.”
Kelly believes education and awareness are key to continuing improvement of death rates.
As for the differences between death rates for blacks and whites, she believes “it all comes down to education and awareness. Where we are not getting the information out enough, making others aware, and advocating for those who need to know.”
“If we could make things equitable for everyone, then we could make great change,” she said.
Bailer said there are many ways to help pregnant women and new mothers avoid infant deaths.
“At the Butler County General Health District we focus on three areas preventing preterm birth, smoking cessation and safe sleep for babies,” Bailer said. “However, it will take the efforts across the community to support our high-risk mothers, we are hopeful that this awareness campaign with churches will inspire residents to action.”