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Report: Percentage of low-birthweight babies on the rise in Michigan

Babies exposed to opioids in the womb may suffer from Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, especially in rural areas
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A new reportshows Michigan has made some progress in improving maternal and infant well-being.

The Michigan League for Human Services' Kids Count in Michigan project found a drop in the percentage of teen births over the past decade. Repeat births to teens and pre-term births have also decreased.

But it’s not all good news. Jane Zehnder-Merrell, Kids Count in Mchigan project director, says the state saw worsening trends over the decade in babies weighing less than 5.5 pounds, or low-birthweight babies.

"One of indicators that is of most concern is the 7 percent increase in low-birthweight, because that is what drives infant mortality particularly in the African American community."

African Americans babies had double the risk of being born too small, compared to white and Hispanic babies.

The report calls for more state investment in programs and policies to improve the well-being of mothers, and provide a stronger safety net for low-income families and their children.

Zehnder-Merrell says these data are not only indicators of how successful the next generation will be, but also "how successful our state will be."

The Michigan Department of Community Health held a summit last fall to come up with a list of strategies to increase infant survival. The recommendations include:

  • Promote awareness of and attention to the influence of social determinants: The impact on
    infant mortality of policies that influence where women live, work, and play should be considered.
    The role of the Department of Environmental Quality to limit environmental exposures should be explored.
  • Adopt an institutional/organizational focus on the life course: Policymakers must make women’s health throughout the life course (before and between pregnancies; during pregnancy; during infancy; and during childhood and adolescence) a priority. Policies and programs to improve preconception health and reduce unintended pregnancies should be implemented and sustained statewide. Specifically programs and approaches with proven results and a solid evidence base that offer women and their families social and medical supports throughout preconception, pregnancy, and motherhood. Some
    specific programs and strategies that were mentioned include Home Visiting, Safe Sleep, regionalization of perinatal services, and eliminating medically unnecessary deliveries before 39 weeks.

The report also breaks down the findings for maternal and infant well-being by county.
The top 10 (best) counties are: Houghton, Ottawa, Livingston, Leelanau, Midland, Grand Traverse, Oakland, Emmet, Clinton and Washtenaw. The bottom 10 (worst) counties are: Berrien, Calhoun, Alcona, Genesee, Clare, Lake, Saginaw, Wayne, Crawford and Luce.

To check out each county's profile, click here.

Jennifer is a reporter for Michigan Radio's State of Opportunity project, which looks at kids from low-income families and what it takes to get them ahead. She previously covered arts and culture for the station, and was one of the lead reporters on the award-winning education series Rebuilding Detroit Schools. Prior to working at Michigan Radio, Jennifer lived in New York where she was a producer at WFUV, an NPR station in the Bronx.
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