The State of Indiana is ranks seventh worst in the United States in infant mortality with more than 600 infants dying before they reach their first birthday each year.
While the government has plans to improve on this, hoping to be at the lowest end of infant mortality by 2024, Pediatric Hospitalist, Dr. Patrick Clements, said there are things the state can do now that significantly reduce the risk.
Infant mortality can be attributed to many factors; pregnancy complication, unsafe sleep practices, smoking and others.
As a doctor who works with children younger than 18, pre-term deliveries and babies in the Neo-Natal Unit (NICU) at Indiana University Health, Clements is working to educate and offer resources when possible.
Currently, 15 percent of pregnant women in Indiana smoke cigarettes — nearly twice the national average. In 2015, approximately 12,000 babies were born to mothers who smoked while pregnant in Indiana and the numbers continue to grow.
"I think there are a lot of great resources out there — some perhaps don’t get as much funding, but smoking is a challenge and it’s designed to be that way — it’s addictive. This isn’t a case of someone isn’t trying hard enough, the message is out there but it’s hard to change,” Clements said.
While some families shy away from talking about it, fearing stigma and judgment sometimes inflicted by others, Clements said the relationship between the patient and health care provider is imperative in getting help for these challenges.
“Pregnancy is a time when families are making a lot of changes anyway," he said. "Sometimes it’s empowering to stop smoking at that time. Sometimes there’s the financial incentive there. It’s not a one size fits all, there’s no one solution."
Not only is smoking while pregnant contributing to the infant mortality rate, Clements is concerned about what happens after baby has left the womb.
Overall, the health and well being of the parents is directly related to the health and well being of the children.
“Kids being exposed to tobacco smoke increase their risk of viral and ear infections, sudden death and other environmental challenges. They are often more sick than other kids,” Clements said.
He also warns about the false assumptions of e-cigarettes and vaping. Some, switch to e-cigarettes with the intention of being healthier. Not so, says Clements.
“There are a lot of similar chemicals in cigarette smoke and vape smoke," he said. "Realistically, the dangers are still there."
How are Clements and other professionals beginning to educate and spread the word?
Clements recommends 1800-Quit-Now as a good place to start. The free hotline offers coaching to those trying to quit tobacco, pairs up supporters and those struggling and offers local resources around the town callers live in.
The Hendricks County Health Department also offers a course, Baby and Me Tobacco Free. Moms who are successful in the program can earn vouchers for up to one year for diapers and other financially burdensome things.