Strong Start. Healthy Start. works to decrease infant mortality rate in Ingham

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Infant Mortality Rate Graph

All data is from Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

By Jamie Brewer
Ingham County Chronicle

Ingham County Maternal Child Health Division is working to make the lives of expectant mothers and their newborn babies healthier through workshops and home visits.

Infant mortality rate is often an indicator of poverty and lack of health care in urban areas, but also a lack of education. The Ingham County Health Department is working to make resources available to mothers and expectant mothers who want to be educated.

Ingham County had an infant mortality rate of 7.2 per 1,000 live births. In the 2011-2013 three-year average. This average has gone up in the last year and is exceeding the statewide rate.

It is common for the infant mortality rate to be higher in an urban area than in  a suburban, primarily white city, according to Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail.

Vail calculates the infant mortality rate in Ingham County by doing a five-year average rather than comparing year to year to help ensure accuracy.

“It is difficult to rank people on just a one-year statistic,” Vail said.

 The Ingham County Health Department looks at rolling averages and trends in order to better assess infant deaths.

Ingham County Infant Mortality

The leading cause of infant deaths in Ingham County  is low birth weight, according to Vail. The age of the mother does not have a direct impact on the infant mortality rate.

To try to lower the infant mortality rate the Ingham County Health Department has programs to directly help families.

Regina Traylor is director of Public Health Nursing and Special Programs for the department and coordinates the three programs under the Maternal Child Health Division by helping expectant mothers with care for their newborns.

The programs are Nurse-Family Partnerships, Strong Start. Healthy Start., Lead Poisoning Prevention and others. These programs work with mothers who are at a higher risk of infant death.

“Many of these programs are core functions of public health broadly, which works to promote healthy behaviors, communities and environments,” Traylor said.

In the Women Infant Children (WIC) program provides supplemental foods, health-care referrals, and nutrition education for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and non-breastfeeding postpartum women, and to infants and children up to age 5  who are found to be at nutritional risk

“Breastfeeding support is a key function of the WIC program, and staff are available to provide individualized consultations to mothers, along with a breast pump rental program for mothers who return to work or school,” Traylor said.

The Strong Start. Healthy Start. program works with pregnant women or parents of a child of under 2 who are Ingham County residents.

“I think that our staff help mothers each day. We have stories of women completing school, getting jobs, or leaving domestic violence situations that we hear regularly,” Traylor said.

Strong Start. Healthy Start.

Dana Watson, health educator for the Strong Start. Healthy Start. program that began in 2009, focuses on African-American women because of their higher infant mortality rate. The infant mortality rate among African Americans surpasses other races in Michigan with a rate of 13.1 in 2013.

race graph

All data is from Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

Strong Start. Healthy Start. offers a variety of classes including infant CPR, personal finance, family planning, couponing, yoga, Zumba and other classes to help prepare participants for motherhood.

“A lot of the women don’t know that they could save a lot of money budgeting or how to lay their baby down to sleep,” Watson said. “Or they don’t know what to do if their baby is choking.”

Along with the workshops, the program offers home visits to families where the program officers work to create networks and support to the family along with problem solving skills and connections to community resources.

“The women just don’t know the resources are out there,” Watson said.

Danika Davis, mother of three, has been the peer advisor for the Strong Heart. Healthy Start. program for three years. She encourages other mothers to get involved.

“You learn different stuff every time you come if you’re willing to listen to what they have to say,” Davis said.


Michigan characteristics of the mother who’s infant died in 2013. All data is from Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

Davis said that lack of education is the main reason for a high infant mortality rate. The mothers are unaware of the cycle their body is going to endure.

“Some African-American women are not educated enough about why your body goes through changes and the cycles you have to take in order to carry a child,” Davis said.

Mothers know there is chance for their baby to be harmed from drinking and smoking during pregnancy, but some don’t understand the extremity of those activities, according to Davis.

“It’s important to get prenatal care and to talk to your doctor and to stop drinking and smoking,” pregnant mother and mother of two Branchelle Herrell said.

Davis became an advocate for the program after having three children and realizing she wanted to be a better mother. Her first child died when she was 17, only four hours after the infant was born.

“It was that time in my life where I was doing too much and my body wasn’t ready to carry a child,” Davis said.

Davis said she didn’t realize what she did during pregnancy could have affected her newborn. She was told her body was not able to carry a child.

“I learned from these classes how to get my body prepared for birth,” Davis said.

Juanita Beal attended her first Strong Start. Healthy Start. workshop April 20 and said she learned a lot in the yoga class. 

“I think I had more fun than everybody,” Beal said. “I hear about the classes all the time but this is my first one. I hear that they teach you everything.”

U.S. Infant Mortality Rate

Dr. Fayyez Hussain, professor of integrative studies in social sciences at Michigan State University, said that infant mortality rate in America is due to poverty, hunger, lack of preventive medicines and lack of health insurance.

“As a society, it is our responsibility to provide these basic needs to people regardless of their economic class,” Hussain said.

African Americans have a collectively higher infant mortality rate in the country than other races.

“It is unfortunate, but some of the poor countries have lower infant mortality than African Americans.  Compared to most industrialized countries, USA has the highest infant mortality,” Hussain said. “It is simply because of the European welfare system and universal health care in those countries.”

According to Herrell, mothers need to learn more and take advantage of the resources that are available to them,

The resources are out there and are provided by the county, but mothers are “sticking to old habits,” Herrell said.


For more information about Strong Start. Healthy Start. visit or call (517) 887-4322 for information about signing up for home visits and workshops.

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