Rock County baby death rate among top

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Friday, April 22, 2011
— Rock County’s rate of black babies dying before their first birthdays is among the highest in Wisconsin.

Health officials are focused on Beloit, where the rate of infant mortality among blacks is especially alarming: For every 1,000 live births, 16.8 deaths occur, said Janet Zoellner, Rock County Health Department nursing director.

The statistic is a rolling average from 2004 and 2008, she said, and the rate is actually down from 19 per 1,000.

The rate among white women in Beloit is 7.5 deaths for every 1,000 live births, which still is above the state rate of 5.2.

For all of Rock County, the infant mortality rate among blacks is 17.7 per 1,000 and 5.1 among whites. The rate for Janesville is not available.

Creating awareness and providing education on infant mortality are goals of the Janesville March for Babies on Saturday, May 7. The annual March of Dimes walk raises money for research and support programs for mothers to have healthy births.

Infant mortality is a rate of how many babies don’t live to age 1. Causes of death range from premature birth, cognitive defects, unsafe sleep circumstances and accidents, Zoellner said.

“Across the nation, there are large discrepancies in the African American rate and the white rate,” said Maureen Kartheiser, March of Dimes state director of program services and public affairs.

Many black woman have preterm births, and Beloit’s numbers are driven by the city’s high black population, she said.

“It’s reflecting numbers that are seen in large metropolitan areas across the nation,” she said. “Anywhere where there’s a large (population of) blacks, the numbers are going to be very high.

“The tricky thing is we just don’t know why,” she said.

Researchers have found it’s not merely a matter of women getting prenatal care or living in poverty, Zoellner said.

The high number of tiny babies born to black mothers could be a reflection of social and economic pressures and stress of being black, she said.

A black woman with a college degree has a higher rate of infant mortality than a white teen mom, she said.

Researchers are looking at the impact a lifetime of stress on black women, she said.

That’s why health officials look to provide support through a person’s lifespan through programs such as the Beloit Lifecourse Initiative for Healthy Families: Pathways to Healthier African American Families, she said.

The health department also has nurses who do extensive home visits for any woman who needs information about how to have a healthy pregnancy, Zoellner said. The free visits have no income eligibility, and nurses will help a woman through pregnancy and for a year after birth, she said.

“Another area we see babies dying of is unsafe sleeping,” she said. “That’s a huge concern because those deaths are preventable.”

Ironically, people sometimes begin sleeping with their babies after hearing of an infant death because of the instinct to draw an infant closer and keep it safe, she said.

Babies should sleep alone and without pillows, blankets, stuffed animals or any other cushy items, she said.

“It looks rather stark, but that’s a safe sleep environment for babies,” she said.


The Janesville March for Babies is Saturday, May 7, at Dean Riverview Clinic, 580 N. Washington St., to raise money to support programs that help moms have healthy, full-term pregnancies. Money raised also funds research to find answers to problems that threaten babies.

Registration starts at 8 a.m., and the 3-mile walk starts at 9 a.m., followed by a post-walk celebration with food and music. For more information, call Becky Schmall at (608) 243-7764.

This year’s ambassador family is Deanna and Greta Gile and their daughter, Addison, who is 3 1/2.

Deanna said the March of Dimes research helped give her family a few hours with Addison’s twin brother, Riley. Deanna gave birth to the twins at 24 weeks and six days.

Riley developed with low amniotic fluid, and doctors told Deanna she would miscarry him or he wouldn’t survive. He also suffered from chronic placental abruption, which is what caused the preterm labor. It was a miracle, she said, that he was able to breathe on a ventilator for four hours before dying. His sister had a variety of diagnoses as a result of being premature including cerebral palsy, epilepsy and lung problems.

This is the family’s third March for Babies in Janesville, and they typically raise about $10,000 each year.

Greta was born and raised in Janesville, and Riley is buried in Milton Lawns Memorial Park, though the family lives in a Chicago suburb.

“We want other families to know even if you have a child born prematurely, there is hope,” Deanna said. “You have to remain positive.”

Last updated: 4:55 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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