Preventing infant mortality: Pharmacists’ call to action

The United States has a higher infant mortality rate than many other developed countries.  6.1 of every 1000 babies born in the U.S. dies within their first 12 months of life, not including miscarriages or stillbirths.  The leading causes of death in this country are preterm births (when the baby is born before the 37th week of the pregnancy), sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), or low birth weight.  These deaths aren’t caused by a single factor, but a multitude of them.  Pharmacists can impact society more than they know by informing the population of the factors that contribute to infant mortality and hopefully reduce their frequency.

For example, tobacco use during pregnancy increases the likelihood of all of the leading causes of infant death in the U.S. in addition to birth defects.  Both smoking and smokeless tobacco have affects on the baby  even after it is born and can lead to complications.  Pharmacists can intervene by providing information and advice on smoking cessation as well as recommend products to help mothers quit.  Alcohol, illicit drugs, and marijuana all can have deleterious affects as well, and pharmacists can spread knowledge about these too.

Vaccines are also highly recommended to pregnant women to prevent infants from susceptibility to those diseases and infections.  The inactive forms are preferred and can range from flu to tetanus.  Pharmacists can educate their pregnant patients as well as administer these immunizations to prevent death from preventable causes.

Pharmacists can also inform the public on the advantages of breastfeeding, for instance babies who are breast fed have a lower risk of death due to SIDS.  Critical vitamins during pregnancy are another counseling point for pharmacists.

Overall, including pharmacists in the education of mothers during and after pregnancy can and should have a profound effect.  Together with their inter-professional health team, they can reduce infant mortality rates by informing the public on preventable actions that cause infant death.

DiPietro Mager N. Preventing infant mortality: Pharmacists’ call to action. JAPhA. 2016;56(1):82-87

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