INDIANA, (WTWO/WAWV) – Early on in his leadership, Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb set the goal to be the “best in the midwest” for infant mortality by 2024.

Local hospitals are working to meet this goal, as Indiana still sits in the top 10 highest infant mortality rates in the United States.

“We know here in Indiana we’re the 7th highest in the U.S, and that the governor has put a goal for us to be the best in the midwest by 2024,” Madelyn Taylor, head of nursing for the OB Department at Good Samaritan Hospital, said.

According to the Indiana Department of Health, infant mortality is defined as an infant who died before his or her first birthday.

In a report put out by the IDOH, it stated that Indiana had 6.6 infant deaths for every 1,000 live births in 2020. That means 522 Hoosier babies died before their first birthday in 2020.

The nation’s average that same year was 5.4 babies.

Although Indiana has seen a decline in its infant mortality rate over the past few years, local health officials say the work is not over yet.

“Over 50% of those are what we call perinatal risk factors. Perinatal risk factors are those things that you and I can hopefully control a little bit,” Dr. Mary Abernathy, Maternal-Fetal Medicine Physician at Union Hospital, said.

Dr. Abernathy said at Union Hospital, they are trying to implement safe and healthy habits with the mother before the baby is even born.

“Such as getting women into care early, making sure that if they have diabetes or hypertension before pregnancy that they get those into the best optimal care get them at the optimal weight,” Dr. Abernathy said.

Taylor said most of the deaths come from these perinatal factors, specifically unsafe sleep practices.

“The academy of pediatrics just came out in June with new recommendations with that. Some big changes to that were no hats on babies while they’re sleeping after they’re discharged home,” Taylor said.

She also said no heavy blankets or pillows in the baby’s sleep space, and the only thing they should have is a fitted sheet.

Taylor said there are changes they had to make at Good Samaritan Hospital to implement sleep safety such as changing their bassinets that have an incline.

“The safety commission is also looking at disbanding all products that have a 10% incline or more so they’re really looking at how a baby can’t support their head right after, for at least around six months so that incline can cause them to block off their airway if they’re sleeping and their head falls forward,” Taylor said.

Good Samaritan Hospital has a Safety PIN program, or Protect Indiana’s Newborns, to help lower the infant mortality rate and better prepare the moms-to-be.

“Something we see a lot in our program, which is the safety pin program, is just access to care especially prenatally. So our physicians have done a really good job making referrals to our program as early in pregnancy as possible,” Casandra DeBord, Safety PIN project director, said.

Dr. Abernathy said Union Hospital is also providing similar resources to women to give both the mom and the baby the best chance at a healthy life.

“We’ve been blessed that we now have a lot of Perinatal Navigators that were put forth by the ‘My Healthy Babies’ program such that we can connect women who may have difficulty with things like transportation, housing, or food. So the Navigators help that woman by getting them into care early,” Dr. Abernathy said.

For more information on Union’s Perinatal Navigator Program, you can click here.

For more information on Good Samaritan Hospital’s Safety PIN Program, you can click here.