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Heritage College programs raise awareness about infant mortality

(ATHENS, Ohio – Nov. 8, 2013) During an Ohio Department of Health (ODH) Town Hall Meeting last summer, ODH Director Ted Wymyslo, M.D., highlighted a grim statistic: Ohio ranks 48th in the country in the rate of infant mortality.

According to ODH, more than 1,000 babies die in Ohio before their first birthday every year.

The majority of infant deaths occur for one of several reasons, including premature births, serious birth defects, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or injuries from unsafe sleeping environments, or problems with mother’s health during pregnancy. These four leading causes of infant mortality together accounted for 61 percent of all infant deaths in Ohio from 2006 to 2009.

Several programs at the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine aim to help prevent infant deaths, thus improving the state’s ranking.

The college offers ODH’s Safe Sleep program, working with daycare providers in Athens County to provide education about safe sleep practices, said Mary McPherson, M.S.N., WHNP-BC, R.N., nurse coordinator for the college’s Community Health Programs. “We provide evidence-based information and education on safe sleep practices for infants,” she said.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends placing infants to sleep flat on their backs, providing a firm sleep surface, and removing any soft objects, loose bedding and bumper pads from the crib.

In addition to the Safe Sleep program, the Heritage College will be partnering with O’Bleness Memorial Hospital and the Athens City/County Health Department in the upcoming year in a Back to Sleep campaign in which mothers who give birth at the hospital receive a T-shirt with the Back to Sleep message, McPherson said.

The Heritage College also consults with local businesses on ways to make the work environment more supportive of breast-feeding mothers, as studies prove such practices are healthier for children.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, essential elements of a successful workplace breast-feeding program are space, time, support and gatekeeping. Employers can use many strategies to ensure time for breast-feeding or milk expression, including flexible work schedules and locations, break times for pumping, and job sharing.

“It’s proven to be beneficial to infants if they are breast-fed,” McPherson said. “Developing such policies is a ‘win-win situation’ for all—the baby, the mother and the business. Research indicates that breast-fed babies are healthier than those who are not, resulting in fewer lost days in sick leave for mothers to care for ill babies and promoting happier babies, mothers and employers.”

For information about the Safe Sleep Program or support for breast-feeding in the workplace, contact McPherson at 740-593-2481 or

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Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine
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Last updated: 01/28/2016