Dr. Will Ross

Everyone should have the same opportunity to live a healthy and productive life – starting from the day you are born. But many of our babies in St. Louis aren’t given that chance.

There are neighborhoods in St. Louis City and County with infant death rates worse than some third-world countries. Leaders worldwide look at infant mortality rates as the strongest predictor of a community’s overall health and well-being. So, what does that say about St. Louis?

I would say that we have a public health crisis, which is equal in severity to the level of gun violence we see in our community. But, while there’s been broad and justifiable public interest in reducing gun violence, the topic of infant mortality seems to stay below the radar. This is despite the fact that in 2013, the number of Missouri babies who died before their first birthday was almost double the number of all Missourians who were murdered by firearms.

The health of our babies is critical because it impacts our entire community. Every baby’s death robs us of his or her potential contributions to our society. And, each neighbor, family member or friend who loses a baby faces enormous emotional suffering.

These devastating social impacts are paired with financial strains. Each year, premature births cost Missouri taxpayers $180 million in immediate and short-term costs.

No mother wants to lose a child; the emotional, psychological and even physical consequences of an infant death can be devastating and long-lasting. We need to stop blaming mothers and instead look at how we can support families and develop region-wide policies that help reduce infant deaths. Small changes can make a big difference, such as making it easier for pregnant women to enroll in CHIP for low-cost health care, or increasing funding for public health nurses who can visit moms to connect them with existing resources.

We also must bring the different and intersecting health, social and economic pieces of the puzzle together in order to accelerate needed policy changes. Lack of access to reliable transportation makes it hard to make prenatal health appointments and keep a job. Living in unsafe areas increases stress and makes it hard to venture out of your home to get exercise. Lack of opportunities to find living-wage jobs increases financial stress and makes it difficult to afford healthy foods.

That is why I became involved with FLOURISH St. Louis, an initiative funded and supported by Missouri Foundation for Health working in coordination with the Maternal, Child & Family Health Coalition. Its aim is to bring all areas of our community together to reduce infant mortality. The FLOURISH St. Louis cabinet of moms, dads and community and business leaders is listening to the community, looking at data and seeing what other cities have done to help their babies. Together, they will identify the next best steps and bring the right resources together to reduce infant deaths.

You can help. I invite you to visit www.flourishstlouis.org to learn what you can do to help reduce infant deaths in our region, including: sharing your ideas on challenges families face in having a healthy pregnancy and baby, ideas on what should be done to address St. Louis’ high infant death rate; writing a Letter of Love to show pregnant and new moms in St. Louis that their entire city supports them and joining a Workgroup to help bring FLOURISH St. Louis initiatives to life.

Let’s come together to make St. Louis a place where babies thrive and families flourish. 

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