Gaston County’s infant mortality rate dropped in 2010, down to 8.1 deaths per 1,000 live births from 10.3 in 2009.
“No one wants to think of infant death in terms of numbers, as even one infant death is devastating to our community,” said Health Director Chris Dobbins. “But, at the same time, we are very excited to see this drop in our infant mortality rate.”
The number of infant deaths in 2009 dropped to 21 from 28. Gaston’s total rate is higher than the state’s rate of 7.0. Gaston typically lags behind the state in its infant mortality rate. The last time Gaston’s rate was lower than the North Carolina rate was in 2004.
Infant mortality is defined as death in the first year of life, so the specific causes of death range from congenital birth defects and premature birth to household accidents and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Public health officials view infant mortality as a key indicator of community health, in part because it is tied to the health of both mothers and children.
The Gaston County Health Department works to reduce infant mortality by providing: maternity care, including special care for women with high-risk pregnancies; group education for pregnant women; social workers who help mothers in the final months of their pregnancies and shortly after birth; nurse home visits to assess the health and safety of mothers and children; tobacco cessation; and, social workers who help mothers navigate the challenges of motherhood, complete their educations, and secure jobs.
The Health Department will soon begin implementing the Nurse-Family Partnership. This program assigns nurses to make home visits to help low-income first-time mothers have and raise healthy babies until the babies’ second birthdays. The program is fully funded by a grant from the Children and Youth Branch of the North Carolina Division of Public Health.
The Health Department is also implementing the Pregnancy Medical Home program, which assigns social workers to help pregnant women receive high quality prenatal care, transportation to their medical appointments, and to teach them to have healthy pregnancies and birth outcomes. This program is funded by North Carolina Medicaid.