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SD Infant Death Rate Hits Historic Low

Kealey Bultena

Fewer South Dakota babies are dying. New numbers reveal 2016 had the lowest infant mortality rate on South Dakota record.   

South Dakota welcomed 12,270 babies last year, and 59 of them died. That means for every 1,000 live births fewer than five babies die. The rate is 4.8.

In 2015, the rate was 7.3 deaths per 1,000 live births.

Colleen Winter with the South Dakota Department of Health says people can prevent many infant deaths with a combination of healthy decisions that prioritize safety.

"There really isn’t one single strategy that makes the biggest difference," Winter says. "It’s really a set of strategies that really are needed to make an impact on our rates."

Winter and other health leaders call the infant mortality rate the gold standard for broadly assessing health in communities. She says death before age one can indicate health concerns during pregnancy and within family situations.

Winter says, for example, eliminating tobacco use improves wellness in babies and their parents.

"Illnesses that are linked to tobacco use are preventable," Winter says. "Then of course any of our work to really help women find early prenatal care – first of all to be aware of the signs and symptoms of pregnancy so they can get in early for prenatal care."

Winter says safe sleep environments are critical to lowering South Dakota’s infant mortality rates. Health department leaders say unsafe conditions contribute to more than half of the state’s baby deaths.

Winter says safe sleep initiatives are helping babies make it to their first birthdays.

"Whether it’s a babysitter, a childcare provider, a parent, an aunt, an uncle – whoever is providing care for that infant, helping them understand that babies need to sleep on their back for every sleep," Winter says. "They need to be on a firm sleep surface. The crib needs to be free of any other objects. They’re really simple strategies to help prevent these deaths that occur as a result of an unsafe sleep environment."

Winter says South Dakota has a Cribs for Kids program. She says families receive one-on-one consultation and receive equipment when they need it. Kits include a pack-n-play crib, a fitted sheet, and more. The state has distributed nearly 7,915 cribs since 2012 to promote safe sleep.

The record low for infant mortality before South Dakota’s latest number was the year 2000. That record was 5.5 deaths per 1,000 live births.

Kealey Bultena grew up in South Dakota, where her grandparents took advantage of the state’s agriculture at nap time, tricking her into car rides to “go see cows.” Rarely did she stay awake long enough to see the livestock, but now she writes stories about the animals – and the legislature and education and much more. Kealey worked in television for four years while attending the University of South Dakota. She started interning with South Dakota Public Broadcasting in September 2010 and accepted a position with television in 2011. Now Kealey is the radio news producer stationed in Sioux Falls. As a multi-media journalist, Kealey prides herself on the diversity of the stories she tells and the impact her work has on people across the state. Kealey is always searching for new ideas. Let her know of a great story! Find her on Facebook and twitter (@KealeySDPB).