MICHIGAN (WZZM) -- New numbers are out identifying Michigan's infant mortality rate. The numbers continue to climb in the African-American community.
Governor Rick Snyder and state health leaders are calling it a public health crisis and are taking steps to reduce the number of infants dying.
According to the latest data, in Michigan, 5 out of 1,000 Caucasian babies die before their first birthday. In the Hispanic community it is 7 out of 1, 000 and in the African-American community, twice as many, 14 out of 1,000 babies die during their first year of life.
"The disparity we've seen in infant mortality over the last decade or longer has continued to be about 2 to 3 times as great for African-Americans as white infants," said Alethia Carr, the director of the Bureau of Family, Maternal & Child Health with the Michigan Department of Community Health.
Carr says they have fought the disparity using a variety of campaigns and messages. Now, the governor and MDCH are calling this a top priority. The state has introduced the Michigan Infant Mortality Reduction Plan.
"We are looking at the issues that are related to that now and trying to better understand the differences. We have used the standard approaches to reducing infant mortality over time. We've used the evidence based programs and initiatives that have been promoted by our federal partners and science and we are still seeing this disparity and we are coming to realize that more needs to be done at the state and local levels to understand the differences between populations and the way messages are heard and or understood," said Carr.
One such message is the "Back to Sleep" Campaign which encourages parents to place infants to sleep on their backs and not stomachs. A practice and debate that is generations old in the black community.
Carr says the plan will attempt to fight through such information barriers "by sharing current information and sharing the statistics and talking with parents, grandparents and other child-care givers and helping them to understand what we have learned over time."
"When my children were growing up it was putting kids on their stomachs as well. We have learned that infants do suffocate when they are put to bed on their stomach and they can't turn their head and get air," said Carr. "And, so we have started talking about it in terms of suffocation prevention because people can understand keeping babies from suffocating. Also, we talk about the importance of having a baby sleep in their crib, alone, and not in an adult bed and not with an adult or other person and that is a way to prevent suffocation."
Another goal is to create a better understanding of the direct link between the health of mom and the baby.
Carr says "Prenatal care is important. Sometimes women don't seek it early because they know what to expect and had no problems previously. In addition to prenatal care we understand that women being healthy before they are pregnant is key. Often women have chronic conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure that is uncontrolled or even undiagnosed. Then they become pregnant and that adds additional stress to their health where if it was identified and maintained before pregnancy the outcome would be better."
Pre-term births and low-birth weight babies are also of concern. Health leaders believe it is related to poor nutrition and stress women often feel during their pregnancies which affects overall health.
She says a few tips parents can use to give their babies the best chance include planning pregnancies in advance and working to be as healthy as possible before conception, breast feeding, carrying babies as long as possible and putting the baby to sleep on his or her back to prevent suffocation.
"We understand our messages have to be appropriate to the culture and we may have to change our approach and that may mean different messages for different communities," said Carr.