September is National Infant Mortality Awareness Month

Sikeston, Mo. – Babies born in under-developed countries like Cuba, Romania, Tonga or Botswana have a better chance of surviving their first year of life than those born in Missouri’s Bootheel.

That’s the basis of an ongoing outreach initiative aimed at reducing infant death in six Bootheel counties, which represent some of the worst infant mortality rates (IMR) in the U.S. In recognition of September as Infant Mortality Awareness Month, Bootheel Babies & Families has additional outreach and education efforts planned to help spread awareness about the Bootheel’s high IMR and the fight to save babies’ lives.

“The majority of infant deaths in the Bootheel – about 50% in 2016 – are attributable to unsafe sleep habits such as bed sharing and suffocation,” said Robert Turner, Project Management Coordinator for Bootheel Babies & Families. “Much of our outreach efforts over the past year have focused on safe sleep education for parents and caregivers, emphasizing the ABC’S of Safe Sleep: Babies sleep best Alone, on their Back, in a Crib or other Safe sleep surface.”

Over the past eight years, 135 babies have died in Dunklin, New Madrid, Mississippi, Pemiscot, Stoddard and Scott counties, where the IMR ranges as high as 11.7. “When compared with Missouri’s average IMR of 6.5, or the national rate of 5.9, this is truly devastating for the Bootheel,” said Turner. “Infant mortality has a longlasting affect on not just the families suffering the loss, but schools, employers and communities as a whole. It’s a key indicator of overall population health.”

Bootheel Babies & Families is led by a Steering Committee made up of community stakeholders, partner organizations, medical professionals, educators, parents, caregivers and others committed to reducing the Bootheel’s IMR. The Steering Committee meets monthly to collaborate on outreach efforts. “Our approach to combatting infant mortality in the Bootheel has been unique. This isn’t one non-profit or one community organization committed to a cause, it’s multiple, along with individuals who are passionate about decreasing infant mortality, all collaborating to make a true difference,” said Sarah Ezell, Chair of the Bootheel Babies & Families Steering Committee.

“Everyone in the Bootheel is affected in some way by infant mortality, and we encourage anyone with an interest to join the Steering Committee – from community leaders and caregivers to law enforcement to religious organizations,” said Ezell. “And for those unable to attend Steering Committee meetings, there are many other outreach opportunities available. There’s something everyone can do, and even small things make a big difference when it comes to saving babies’ lives.”

To learn more about Bootheel Babies & Families, the Steering Committee or Infant Mortality Awareness Month, visit