By Amy Geiszler-Jones
More babies in Sedgwick County are surviving their first year of life, and Cari Schmidt with the University of Kansas School of Medicine-Wichita wants to keep that trend going.
Schmidt is the leader of Baby Talk, a local initiative in which nurses teach moms, dads and other caregivers about safe sleeping for infants to reduce the occurrence of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or other sleep-related deaths, like suffocation when bed-sharing with adults. In 2015, the infant mortality rate in Sedgwick County was 8.1 per 1,000 live births, far worse than the state’s average of 6.1. In 2017, the latest year data is available, the county’s rate fell to 6.9, compared to the state’s rate that remained 6.1.
In public health circles, infant mortality rates are an indicator of a population’s health.
Baby Talk has been successful because the free community-wide program includes health care professionals working together to make a difference, said Schmidt. who is director of research and associate professor in the medical school’s pediatrics department. Her five-member staff and the health care professionals who coordinate and teach the classes “have really put their heart into helping these moms,” she said.
Any pregnant woman in Sedgwick County who is 32 weeks pregnant or less – plus others who will help care for the newborn – can take the six-week, 12-hour program, which covers topics such as labor and delivery, the benefits of breastfeeding and the safest ways for babies to sleep, which is alone, on their back in an uncluttered crib. The program, funded by a Kansas Department of Health and Education grant, is expanding to 10 locations in Wichita and Derby this spring.
Besides leading the Baby Talk program, Schmidt helped create a research center at KUSM-Wichita in 2017 with the purpose of connecting Kansas researchers of maternal and infant health issues with health care and other professionals.
“The idea was to connect with others who have similar interests and build projects that will have a greater impact on the infant mortality rate in Kansas,” Schmidt said when the Center for Research on Infant Birth and Survival (CRIBS) was started.
She’s also gotten her husband and two sons involved with helping her volunteer with community-wide events sponsored by the Kansas Infant Death and SIDS (KIDS) Network, which offers support to those affected by infant death and provides education, as well.