As a certified nurse-midwife with over 25 years of practice, including providing prenatal care to pregnant women and delivering babies, I applaud Gov. Dennis Daugaard, the first lady and the Governor’s Task Force on Infant Mortality in their efforts to reduce infant deaths in South Dakota.
Every effort should be made to reduce infant and maternal mortality in the United States and worldwide. However, one proven and fundamental way to decrease infant mortality was left out of the Task Force’s recent recommendations: planning one’s pregnancy in advance.
Increasing access to family planning is an essential step in reducing the rate of infant deaths in South Dakota. The Department of Health and Human Services, the National Physicians Alliance and the Guttmacher Institute all agree that being able to plan one’s pregnancy and adequately space births helps to decrease infant mortality. Fortunately, South Dakota has an infrastructure of family planning providers throughout the state from Sioux Falls to Rapid City that are, in part, funded by the nation’s family planning program, Title X. Title X has helped millions of American women prevent unintended pregnancies for almost four decades.
Family planning programs such as Title X also are fiscally responsible because for every dollar invested, the state saves nearly $4 in Medicaid costs for pregnancy-related care and medical care for newborns. Title X funds, which are distributed to South Dakota’s 14 Title X providers throughout the state, saved the state $7,660,000 in pregnancy-related costs in 2008. Promoting access to South Dakota’s family planning infrastructure is not only economically smart, it’s an important part of reducing infant mortality and improving health outcomes for moms and babies.
The report also lists low birth rate as a risk factor for infant mortality. Teen pregnancy is one of the greatest risk factors for babies being born with low birth rates. The U.S. has a higher teen pregnancy rate than almost any other developed country, and 95 percent of these pregnancies are reported to be accidental. Making sure young people have access to birth control and providing them with health education that includes information about abstinence and contraception are also key in reducing infant mortality.
Beyond this, reducing unintended pregnancy rates will help women, teens in particular, avoid the devastating rippling effects that are often set in motion by unintended pregnancy. Entering parenthood too early means a young woman is less likely to finish her education, more likely to end up in poverty and more likely to have a second unintended pregnancy.
I applaud the governor’s focus on reducing infant deaths. One of the best ways we can achieve this goal is by empowering people to make healthy choices in their lives. This means supporting women’s health before they become pregnant, including ensuring they have access to basic health care like family planning, birth control and prenatal care. Planned pregnancies lead to healthier pregnancies.
~ Pam Glenn, Planned Parenthood Adovcate
This OpEd was originally printed in the Argus Leader on 1/24/12