Danielle Tate

Tate is an OB/GYN at Regional One Health and an assistant professor in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at University of Tennessee Health Science Center.

As governor, Bredesen faced the infant mortality crisis head on and made infant health a priority

By Published: October 17, 2018 11:32 AM CT

Of all the health care issues that any community faces, infant mortality causes the most heartbreak. Nothing matters more than giving our babies – each and every one of them – a fighting chance. Nowhere has it mattered more than in Memphis.

All too often, a young mother might only get to hold her newborn for five minutes of their brief little life. Other parents might get to nurture their babies for just a few months. Too many – more than 23,000 infants a year in the United States – die before their first birthday, often victims of prematurity, low birth weight, or other problems caused by the environment in which they live.

It is easy to shake our heads at the numbers, but acting to change them is a heavy order. As governor, Phil Bredesen rose to the challenge.

In 2006, infant mortality in Memphis was near an all-time high, with a rate of 13.8 babies dying per 1,000 births, well above the state average. Gov. Bredesen faced this crisis head on and made infant health a priority.

Bredesen took the time to recognize the uphill battle facing expectant young mothers in poverty. Eating healthy and staying safe can be a challenge. The obstacles might include diabetes and obesity, smoking and drinking, not making it to OB visits. Too many simply do not get a basic education about staying healthy during pregnancy. When baby comes, the pressures just mount.

Bredesen joined forces with local officials to convene the Butterfly Project to study the issues of women’s health, poverty, and the connection to infant mortality. Out of that effort came Enhanced Group Prenatal Care modeled after CenteringPregnancy, thanks to a three-year $1.6 million continued funding grant from the Governor’s Office of Children’s Care Coordination.

Through Enhanced Group Prenatal Care, young expectant moms in Memphis get together regularly during the pregnancy and talk about things like breastfeeding, what to expect during the pregnancy, birth control, caring for a new baby, and shared experiences. Healthy snacks are on the table, and each mom gets a health check-in – including hearing her baby’s heartbeat. During each visit, moms get one-on-one time with healthcare professionals to address pregnancy concerns and leave each get-together able to connect with support staff they can reach at any time.

Between 2012 and 2014, Enhanced Group Prenatal Care or CenteringPregnancy mothers delivered 435 babies, with one infant death, (far lower than the rate of the general population), as Yvonne Madlock, Shelby County Health Department Director (now retired), told The Commercial Appeal.

By 2015 – with the CenteringPregnancy program in place in Shelby County – the infant mortality rate fell to a record low of 8.2 per 1,000 births (latest available numbers). The program would not have been possible without Gov. Bredesen’s vision and funding from his administration.

Still, we can do so much better by our babies. With Phil Bredesen representing them and their mothers in the U.S. Senate, we can be sure that more of them will get the fighting chance they deserve.

Danielle L. Tate is an OB/GYN at Regional One Health and an assistant professor in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at University of Tennessee Health Science Center.


Infant mortality Phil Bredesen

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