A column by First Lady Linda Daugaard:
Much has changed for Dennis and me in the last five years. Moving from Dell Rapids to Pierre to serve as governor and first lady has been quite the adventure. But there are other titles we’ve recently acquired that we value even more: grandpa and grandma.
Becoming a grandma has reminded me how much new parents have to decide in nine short months. What color to paint baby’s bedroom, which stroller to buy, whether to know the gender ahead of time – the list of questions can be endless for first-time parents.
Though it can all be overwhelming, the decisions that really matter are those that affect a baby’s health. When Dennis was first elected, he was shocked to learn how many infants were not reaching their first birthday, and that South Dakota’s infant mortality rate was higher than the rates in surrounding states of North Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Montana and Nebraska.
This unsettling truth led him to ask me to lead a task force on infant mortality in South Dakota. I worked with a group of doctors, nurses, tribal health care workers, midwives, social workers and Department of Health officials to understand the causes of the problem. In our research, we found that deciding against early elective deliveries (EEDs), abstaining from tobacco, learning safe sleep practices and receiving prenatal care are critical to an infant’s wellbeing.
Inducing early for non-medical reasons can be dangerous. There are no known health benefits for EEDs, and there are significant health risks for baby – low birthweight, respiratory syndrome, pneumonia and even death. I’m very pleased that 20 of South Dakota’s birthing hospitals have signed pledges to work with us to reduce EEDs.
The infant mortality rate for infants of mothers who smoke is almost twice as high as it is for infants born of non-smokers. Last year, about 15 percent of pregnant women smoked. Though that is an improvement from 2011 when the task force began its work, South Dakota still has one of the highest rates of mothers smoking during pregnancy.
Along with abstaining from tobacco products, it’s critically important for expectant mothers to seek the care they need during the first trimester. In South Dakota, 72 percent of women received prenatal care in the first trimester last year. I’ve heard stories from women who have been told to wait until they are 12 weeks along to schedule prenatal care visits. That’s not good advice. Those who seek that care early on are less likely to lose their child within the first year.
Also before baby is born, expectant parents should learn about safe sleep practices. Infants need to sleep on a firm surface covered by a fitted sheet. Pillows, blankets, toys and crib bumpers should not be in the crib. Babies need to be placed on their back and it’s best for them to sleep in light clothing. Family members and other caregivers also need to know about these important practices.
The good news is that the infant mortality rate is declining in South Dakota. According to the Department of Health, the number of infant deaths per 1,000 live births is down from 2013’s rate of 6.5 to 5.9 in 2014. Last year’s rate is also below 2011’s 20-year low of 6.3. It’s important we keep working to increase prenatal care, promote safe sleep practices, and decrease tobacco use and EEDs to make sure that decline continues.
I know from experience there’s no way to fully prepare yourself for parenthood. Don’t sweat the small stuff. No parent is perfect. Know that by concerning yourself primarily with your baby’s health and safety, you’ll be just what your little one needs.