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Hamilton County's infant mortality rate continues to decline, sets new record low

head shot of adorable infant curling tongue while looking at the camera
Chayene Rafaela

The number of babies dying before their first birthday continued to decline in Hamilton County in 2021. Cradle Cincinnati reports 66 deaths in 2021, down from 76 in 2020.

The infant mortality rate for 2021 was 6.4 deaths per 1,000 live births (66/10,266). That sets a record low for the second year in a row. The rate in 2020 was 7.4.

"This win is more than nine years in the making," Meredith Shockley-Smith, Ph.d., executive director of Cradle Cincinnati, says in a release. "Since Cradle Cincinnati's start in 2013, and even before then, partners have been working on improving birth outcomes for families locally. When our entire community comes together in support of moms and babies, we can make a real difference. However, as we celebrate this victory, we must deepen our commitment to reduce disparities as Black birth outcomes lag starkly behind."

The Black infant mortality rate, which had been decreasing, ticked up slightly in 2021 to 13.4. It was reported in last year's annual report at 10.6 in 2020. That put Hamilton County below the national average of 10.8 for the first time since 1994, according to Cradle Cincinnatilast year. However, the number was later adjusted to 11.5.

Cradle Cincinnati

Extreme preterm births continued on a downward trajectory, however, sleep-related deaths — though lower than in 2020 — remained higher than in the recent past.

Extreme preterm birth — or a baby who is born before the end of the parent's second trimester — was the leading cause of infant death, according to the report.

Cradle Cincinnati says the most common cause of sleep-related deaths was accidental suffocation while co-sleeping. The agency continues to push its "ABC's" of safe sleep message that babies sleep best "Alone, on their Backs, in a Crib."

Cradle Cincinnati

Attacking racial disparities

Black infants in Hamilton County continue to die at a higher rate than white infants, despite socioeconomic status or health behaviors, the report concludes, adding this mirrors a national trend.

In 2019, Cradle Cincinnati shifted its efforts to focus on Black women. Since then, the county's Black infant mortality rate has steadily improved, this year excluded. The agency says the work is paying off, though.

"Hundreds of babies are alive today due to our community's collective efforts to reduce infant mortality in Hamilton County over the past decade," says Jill Miller, president and CEO of bi3, a partner organization dedicated to health equity, in a statement. "Infant mortality is a Black infant death crisis. Through our work addressing racial and social disparities, Black infant deaths decreased by more than a third since 2017."

Programs include collaborations between area health departments and agencies and hospitals; Mama Certified, a program designed to help parents assess birthing centers and ensure babies of color receive equitable care; Queens Village, a community-based support network for Black birthing people;Kings Stand, a Queens Village initiative aimed at supporting Black fathers; and more.

Looking forward

Cradle Cincinnati says it intends to launch this summer a year-long strategic planning process. The goal is to identify and set goals and priorities for the next five years. Opportunities for community feedback are planned and will, the agency says, be posted on social media.

Cradle Cincinnati Annual Report

Senior Editor and reporter at WVXU with more than 20 years experience in public radio; formerly news and public affairs producer with WMUB. Would really like to meet your dog.