Despite having the lowest infant mortality rate in over a decade, Indiana’s current infant mortality of 6.5 infant deaths per 1,000 live births is still 20% higher than the national average, according to the Indiana State Department of Health (ISDH). Laws are currently moving through Indiana’s House and Senate to aid Governor Holcomb’s goal of becoming the best state in the Midwest for infant mortality rates by 2024; however, it will take more than the work of lawmakers, medical workers, and mothers to achieve this goal. Fathers are often overlooked but play a vital role in contributing to good infant health and outcomes.
The Importance of Fathers in Preventing Infant Mortality
Fathers are often omitted from the dialogue surrounding infant mortality; however, by offering physical, social and economic support, dads can offer crucial reinforcement to expecting mothers. Stressful social circumstances, such as unemployment, food insecurity and housing concerns can lead to unhealthy practices, such as poor nutrition, non-adherence to medical advice and substance use, which can have significant negative impacts on the health of the mother and the developing fetus.
Fathers can help alleviate stress for mothers by creating a positive environment and encouraging healthy habits. This includes ensuring the mother is eating well, taking her vitamins, and getting proper rest — all factors that play an important role in fostering a healthy pregnancy. One of the most important components in preventing infant death is consistent attendance at prenatal and postpartum doctor’s appointments. By reducing any barriers to those appointments, including securing transportation and providing childcare, fathers can positively impact the pregnancy and life of the infant.
While it may seem obvious that a pregnant mother should not smoke, smoking during pregnancy is still an issue in Indiana. According to a 2020 study by America’s Health Rankings, 12.6% of pregnant women smoke in Indiana, up from 11.8% in 2019. Fathers can help decrease a mother’s urge to smoke by creating a relaxing, smoke-free and low stress environment. This includes learning how to manage one’s own stress by creating healthy coping tactics and seeking professional help if needed. Having a newborn can certainly add to existing stress, so fathers need to know how to properly manage strain in a way that doesn’t affect the mother or baby negatively. In addition, if a father smokes and makes the choice to quit, this can make it easier for the mother to stop smoking and prevents exposure to secondhand smoke for the baby.
After the baby is born, fathers should be educated on the importance of safe sleep, as this is one of the leading causes of infant deaths. Sleep-related deaths, including sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and accidental suffocation, take the lives of 3,500 babies every year, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Safe sleep practices, such as creating a safe crib environment, avoiding co-sleeping, and removing crib items that can cause strangulation can prevent sleep-related infant death.
Finally, fathers can educate themselves on proper nutrition and the risks of obesity during pregnancy. According to the CDC, the mortality rate for infants born to obese women was 64% higher than the rate for normal weight women, indicating that there is a correlation between body mass index (BMI) and the infant mortality rate. Obesity has also been linked to preterm birth. In Indiana, maternal obesity is a health concern, with 33% of infants in 2019 born to women who were obese. Fathers can help by talking to their partner about the effects of obesity and creating a supportive environment for mothers to practice good nutrition, exercise and experience healthy weight gain during pregnancy.
Environmental and Social Impacts on Infant Mortality
Social determinants of health such as unemployment, unstable housing issues, food insecurity and a lack of access to health care can all lead to poor health outcomes, including infant sickness and death. Identifying barriers and connecting with local resources and support to address these concerns can create a healthy environment for the family. Hoosier families can use health plans, such as CareSource, to assist them in finding local and affordable health care options.
How CareSource Can Help
CareSource offers resources and programs to support fathers and mothers of new infants. CareSource has a dedicated team of case managers who support all pregnant women and infants who are admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit, as well as a transition team to ensure medical equipment, follow-up health services and support are provided once the family is back home.
Lowering the infant mortality rate is a task that cannot be solved by lawmakers alone. Hoosier doctors, mothers, fathers and health plans must work together to offer support, education and services. Fathers can aid in a safe pregnancy and having a strong and present father figure who can provide effective support to the mother is critical to a healthy and happy infant.