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As a pediatrician in Indianapolis for the past 40 years, Dr. Eric Yancy is well aware there are too many babies dying in his city and the state as a whole.

Indiana has had one of the nation's highest infant mortality rates for years, and state political leaders and health officials have made reducing it a priority.

Still, the state's infant death rate hasn't changed much in the past decade, going to 7.5 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2016 from 7.99 in 2006. That does mean 85 more kids lived to see their first birthdays in 2016 compared to 10 years earlier, but for pediatricians like Yancy that's not enough.

He recently developed a set of onesies babies can wear to educate parents on how to keep the children safe and healthy.

"If it looks like the powers that be can't get infant mortality down, we'll see if the infants can do it themselves," he said.

The onesies have messages like "Fragile: Don't shake," "If you're smokin', I'm chokin' " and "100% breast fed — because I'm not a calf."

The clothing items aim to spread the word on ways to reduce infant deaths, such as breastfeeding, keeping babies away from cigarette smoke, and putting them to sleep in safe environments.

One of the onesies says, "Back" on the back with the message "If you can read this, turn me over." Public health officials recommend that babies always sleep alone, on their backs, in cribs (the so-called ABCs of safe sleep).

"We still get tons of co-sleepers. We still get tons of people smoking in the houses," Yancy said.

Another onesie has an infant with rotted teeth and says, "This is what happens when you put me to bed with my bottle." Others promote lead screening and vaccinations.

"Repetition is the best form of advertising," Yancy said.

"When caretakers and grandparents and other people see these messages, it will at least jog their mind: 'That's how we're supposed to do this.' "

For his initial batch, Yancy made a couple thousand of the onesies and gave them out to people and groups in the community. He cares for a largely impoverished, African-American patient base. Black infants are nearly 2 1/2 times more likely in Indiana to die than white babies. Poverty is also a major contributor to infant deaths.

Yancy is hoping that hospitals, insurers and even the state purchase and distribute the onesies.

"We need to put these on kids and see what we can do about this infant mortality rate," he said.


Health Reporter

Giles is the health reporter for The Times, covering the business of health care as well as consumer and public health. He previously wrote about health for the Lawrence (Kansas) Journal-World. He is a graduate of Northern Illinois University.