With Indiana's abysmal infant mortality rate —we rank 45th in the nation — Indiana Health Commissioner William VanNess is right to raise awareness of this problem.
"We are bringing it out from the shadows, and we are shining a lot of spotlights on it," Dr. VanNess said. "We're going to keep the spotlight on it 'til we get better."
In 2011, Indiana recorded 7.68 infant deaths per 1,000 births. The national average was 6.05.
"Indiana has only been below seven infant deaths once in 113 years," he said at a presentation last week at Indiana University Northwest. "It was 6.945 in 2008."
Improving infant mortality rates is a major public health priority, as it should be, but it must be a priority for mothers as well.
Half of births in Indiana involve Medicaid patients, and 30 percent of those mothers smoke while pregnant.
Overall, 16.6 percent of pregnant Hoosiers smoke, nearly twice the national average of 9 percent.
This is alarming. We have known for decades, thanks to the surgeon general, that smoking is harmful to health. And that's not just the health of the smoker, but to those around — and in this case within — the smoker.
There are other risk factors and causes of infant mortality, but smoking during pregnancy is one that must be addressed promptly.
Locally, one of the ways infant mortality is being addressed is through the Centering Pregnancy, used at Community HealthNet. The program groups women with similar due dates, regardless of the mother's age.
The women meet 10 times over the course of their pregnancy. Sitting in their white wooden rocking chairs, they discuss common issues while their health is monitored.
The March of Dimes, which tries to decrease pre-term birth, helps fund the program. So far, the results are promising.
Premature babies are more likely to have health issues, and mothers in this program are giving birth later.
All risk factors must be addressed, but healthy mothers are an essential part of the equation.
Obesity and smoking during pregnancy, especially, must be addressed.