06/17/2015 11:40 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Combating Infant Mortality: The Impact of Maternal Education on Perinatal Outcomes

It is vital for us to understand and spread awareness about the risk of infant mortality and what we can do to prevent it, for the infant mortality rate of any community is a reflection of the health, strength, and vitality of its people. The surest way to combat infant mortality is by ensuring that women receive adequate essential healthcare services before, between, and beyond pregnancy. The death of an infant leaves behind an imprint of devastation and tragedy, not only for the baby's parents and family but also for their community. Investing in the well-being of our babies and mothers is critical to ensuring that our communities grow, prosper, and build a lasting model for future generations to do the same.


In my district of Milwaukee, WI, we have a severe infant mortality problem. Our babies die at a rate that is staggeringly higher than the national average, and Black infants die at over three times the rate of White infants. This is why it is critical that we take a community-based approach, in which we all play a part in combating this complex problem and keeping babies alive and strong. No mother should have to fear losing her child, and no mother should have the misfortune of lacking the education and health services she needs to give her baby a happy and healthy start simply because she is young, poor, or inexperienced.

One of the most significant steps we can take in improving birth outcomes and preventing infant deaths is investing in health education and services for women including prenatal care, proper health screenings, and instruction on healthy habits and proper nutrition. We know that premature births (ones that happen before 37 weeks of pregnancy) are the leading cause of infant deaths, and with one in every nine babies being born preterm, our focus must be on preventing prematurity and providing women the resources to carry healthy, full-term pregnancies.

It is far too easy to forget that many pregnant women who are struggling to get by are often low-income, first-time mothers who do not have access to even the most basic information about healthy pregnancy and avoiding premature births. We must first encourage healthy habits counseling and stress the dangers of smoking, drinking alcohol, and drugs during pregnancy. Prenatal care also serves an invaluable role in preventing prematurity by providing women the medical services, counseling, and education they need. The earlier in their pregnancies women have access to prenatal care the sooner they can discover and treat developing and existing complications and reduce the risk of preterm birth. Prenatal care is vital to determining and managing high risk behaviors and conditions including a short cervix.

Studies have shown that women with short cervixes have a significantly increased chance of premature labor. To help lower the number of premature births, we need to encourage medical professionals to routinely measure all pregnant women's cervixes. Women with short cervixes can be treated with a progesterone-like medication that can help prevent a premature birth. When women are aware of risk factors and understand the benefits of a healthy lifestyle before and during pregnancy, they are more likely to work with their medical providers and do what they can to ensure they have a safe, full-term pregnancy.

Women who are equipped with the tools and resources to be good mothers produce inspiring results. These women create a cycle of education, and financial self-sufficiency, all while paving the paths for their children to be successful contributors to their communities. For this reason, I was thrilled to vote for an extension of the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program last month, which was part of H.R. 2, the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act. This program is critical to combatting infant mortality because it provides access to healthcare and education to at-risk parents and their children. I will continue to be a staunch supporter of this program and fight to keep it funded.

The women who need the most guidance and support are often those who have faced the toughest obstacles. To reduce the infant mortality rate and play a part in making our communities stronger and healthier, we must reach out to these women and help them access the healthcare and education they need because it truly takes a village to successfully raise a child.