Mahoning County infant mortality rate still higher than state, national average

Local News

The health commissioner says "it's not a drug issue, it's [the] actual health of the mother coming into the pregnancy"

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Despite the efforts of health officials, community organizations and others, the infant mortality rate in Mahoning County is still higher than the state and national average. One group is also at a greater risk than others.

Renata Lewis, of Youngstown, suffered a life-threatening complication with her pregnancy called pre-eclampsia. It sent her blood pressure skyrocketing, so she heavily relied on her doctors.

“Make sure I was safe, make sure I had my appointments, make sure I made my appointments and make sure everything that was included in my appointments was provided and done,” she said.

To save her life and the life of her child, her baby was delivered at 31 weeks, more than two months early.

“I could have actually went into a coma, possibly not waking up,” she said.

Lewis’ baby is doing well, but across Mahoning County, infants are still at a higher risk of dying before their first birthday than in the rest of the state or even the country.

For black infants, the risk is three times higher than for other ethnic groups.

Mahoning County Health Commissioner Patricia Sweeney says people often want to blame the mothers for infant deaths.

“Maybe some are smoking, maybe some are using marijuana. But it’s not a drug issue, it’s [the] actual health of the mother coming into the pregnancy,” Sweeney said.

Dr. Rodney Hill has an OB/GYN practice in Youngstown. He says many of his patients don’t get a full health workup until they realize they’re pregnant.

“Things like type 2 diabetes might be unmasked for the first time or chronic hypertension could be unmasked for the first time,” he said.

All of that can make for a high-risk pregnancy.

Hill says pregnant women should keep all of their prenatal appointments.

Also very important is that first appointment after delivery. He says if women skip that appointment, they could be setting themselves up for a dangerous future pregnancy. Hill says having babies too close together can lead to premature birth.

“If you don’t come back for that six-week postpartum visit, then there is a chance that I may see you three months later with a new pregnancy,” he said.

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