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MEMPHIS – The Shelby County Health Department (SCHD) announces for the first time in history, the Infant Mortality (Death) Rate in Shelby County in 2011 was below 10 deaths per 1,000 live births, and the decreasing number of infant deaths within the last eight years is a promising sign of overall health improvement in Shelby County. The improvement is the result of the coordinated work of community partners to better understand the nature and cause of infant deaths, to promote healthier lifestyles before, during and after pregnancy, and to increase access to quality health care for women and children.

In 2011, the infant mortality rate for Shelby County was 9.6 per 1,000 live births, a 35 percent decline since 2003 when the rate was 14.9, the highest rate in a decade. The national Infant Mortality Rate target established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) through Healthy People 2020 is 6.0 deaths per 1,000 live births.

The largest decline was in the rate of infant deaths among African-Americans, which went from 21.0 in 2003 to 13.0 in 2011. Although African-Americans experienced a large decline in the number and rate of infant deaths, African-Americans continue to disproportionately experience infant deaths.

Infant mortality is very complex and results from many contributing factors which are cumulative throughout the course of the mother’s life—before, during and between pregnancies. In Shelby County, infant mortality is primarily associated with babies being born too soon and or too small. Our leading causes of infant deaths are birth defects, prematurity, low-weight births, Sudden Unexplained Infant Deaths and maternal complications from pregnancy.

“We are encouraged by the latest statistics on infant mortality,” said Yvonne Madlock, director of the SCHD. “We realize these numbers represent babies who will live to celebrate a first birthday and have the chance to thrive and contribute to Shelby County. While we have not reached the goal we hope to attain, we are making real progress. Decreasing our infant mortality rate to 9.6 shows us “the possible” and is a cause for community celebration. It demonstrates that focused, consistent, evidence–based community-wide efforts can make an incredible impact on health outcomes. We look forward to continuing to work with a wide-range of community partners to sustain the progress we have collectively made.”

Infant Mortality Rate, the rate at which babies die before their first birthday, is one of the most important measures of community health. Infant Mortality Rate is not just the result of what happens to babies in the first year of their lives, it also reflects the health of women before, during and between their pregnancies, their access to healthcare throughout their lives and the health risks presented by the communities in which they live and work. Reductions in the number of infant deaths are the result of improvements in all of these areas.

Programs provided through the SCHD such as the Campaign for Healthier Babies/Families; Family Planning (Title X); Fetal Infant Mortality Review; Help Us Grow Successfully; Healthy Start Initiative; Newborn Screening; TennCare Prenatal Presumptive Eligibility; Centering Pregnancy, Community Voice and Women, Infants and Children (WIC) work directly within the community to inform and empower men and women to take control of their reproductive health. The Infant Mortality Reduction Initiative, coordinated by the SCHD, brings together community partners to work strategically on reducing the number and rate of infant deaths in Shelby County through increasing access to quality care before, during and between pregnancies and by increasing public awareness of the risks of infant death and the preventive steps that can be taken. The Healthy Shelby Initiative, under the leadership of Mayors Luttrell and Wharton and support of Memphis Fast Forward, with the engagement of health care providers, the faith community and residents have all contributed to the infant health improvements the county is experiencing.

During the month of January, the SCHD will promote National Birth Defects Awareness Month and Folic Acid Awareness Week (Jan. 6-12) to focus attention and galvanize action to continue the downward trend in poor birth outcomes and infant death in Shelby County. SCHD encourages folic acid consumption, maintaining a healthy weight and reproductive life planning.

For more information, go to and follow us on Twitter, @ShelbyTNHealth.

Vasco A. Smith, Jr. County Administration Building • (901) 222-2300
160 North Main Street Memphis TN 38103
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