First Lady speaks out about improvements on infant mortality

By Linda Daugaard

The adventure of serving as First Lady has really been a journey of learning. I’ve had the privilege of talking with people all around the state about what is happening in their communities and I’ve been able to learn about a whole host of issues affecting our state – among those issues, infant mortality.

When Dennis was first elected, he was shocked to learn how many infants were not reaching their first birthday, and that South Dakota’s infant mortality rate was higher than the rates in surrounding states of North Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Montana and Nebraska.

This unsettling truth led him to ask me to lead a task force on infant mortality in South Dakota. I worked with a group of doctors, nurses, tribal health care workers, midwives, social workers and Department of Health officials to understand the causes of the problem.

In our research, we found three major contributors to infant mortality: tobacco use, lack of prenatal care in the first trimester and unsafe sleep practices.

The infant mortality rate for infants of mothers who smoke is almost twice as high as it is for infants born of non-smokers. Last year, 15 percent of pregnant women smoked. Though that is an improvement from 2012, South Dakota still has one of the highest rates of mothers smoking during pregnancy.

Along with abstaining from tobacco products, it’s critically important for expectant mothers to seek the care they need during the first trimester. In South Dakota, 72 percent of women received prenatal care in the first trimester last year. That’s an improvement from the previous year. I’ve heard stories from women who have been told to wait until they are 12 weeks along to schedule prenatal care visits. That’s not

good advice. Those who seek that care early on are less likely to lose their child within the first year.

Also before baby is born, expectant parents should learn about safe sleep practices. Infants need to sleep on a firm surface covered by a fitted sheet. Pillows, blankets, toys and crib bumpers should not be in the crib. Babies need to be placed on their back and it’s best for them to sleep in light clothing. Family members and other caregivers also need to know about these important practices.

Since the task force issued its findings, I’ve been traveling around the state to talk about the causes and to gain support for the South Dakota Cribs For Kids® program. Under this program, private organizations and donors have partnered with the Department of Health to provide Safe Sleep Kits to families without a safe sleep option that show a financial need. The kit includes a

portable crib, crib sheet, sleep sack, informational DVD, children’s book and pacifier. So far, 4,325 parents and other caregivers have received these cribs.

After talking to groups and raising money for the past two years, we’ve finally received good news. The infant mortality rate decreased significantly last year, from a rate of 8.6 deaths per 1,000 births in 2012 to a rate of 6.5 in 2013.

I am happy that we’re seeing improvements, but I know there’s still more work to do. There’s no fixing this problem overnight; we have to be committed for the long haul.

If you’d like to donate to South Dakota Cribs For Kids® call the Department of Health at 605-773-3361. To learn more about infant mortality, go to

Linda, a Republican, is the First Lady of South Dakota.