Infant mortality in Baltimore decreases to record low

Since 2009, infant mortality in Baltimore has decreased by 38 percent.

Fewer babies are dying in Baltimore.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and city health officials announced Wednesday that Baltimore's infant mortality rate reached an all-time low in 2015 — even as the city's homicide rate reached a record high.

The city's infant mortality rate has declined 38 percent since 2009, when officials launched an education and outreach campaign called B'more for Healthy Babies. The decrease has been most pronounced among African-American families, who have seen infant deaths cut in half.

"In 2009, Baltimore had the fourth-worst infant mortality rate in the nation," Rawlings-Blake said. "We knew that in order to get a different outcome, we had to take a different approach. ... It's a strategic, grass-roots outreach."

The city recorded 128 infant deaths in 2009 — a statistic health officials called "terrible." Infant deaths dropped to 92 in 2014 and to 72 last year.

B'more for Healthy Babies, a partnership led by the city's health department and the Family League of Baltimore, works to decrease the three leading causes of infant death: premature birth, low birth weight and unsafe sleep.

In 2010, the program launched a "Sleep Safe" campaign to encourage parents to put their babies to sleep following certain rules: "Alone. On their back. In a crib. Don't smoke. No exceptions."

The city's 2015 infant mortality rate was 8.4 per 1,000 live births — a 19 percent decline from 2014. The previous low of 9.7 deaths per 1,000 live births was recorded in 2012.

"This is the lowest reported infant mortality rate ever in our city," said Baltimore Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen.

B'more for Healthy Babies also includes anti-smoking and obesity efforts, post-partum depression screenings, safe sleep education and free cribs. Mothers can request home visits from health and social service providers.

After a baby is born in a hospital, family members are shown an educational video on preventing infant death.

More than 4,000 health and social services providers have been trained to help reduce infant deaths.

The program also has worked to decrease teen pregnancies, officials said. Since the program started, teen birth rates in Baltimore have dropped 36 percent.

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