MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- In his State of the City address delivered on Monday, February 24th, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said improving the city's infant mortality rate is one of Milwaukee's biggest challenges. What may be surprising to some is the fact that co-sleeping is NOT the leading cause of infant death in Milwaukee -- but rather, premature births.
"We're not doing a good enough job as a community. The numbers remain concerning. They remain unacceptably high," Nicole Angresano with the United Way said.
Angresano says reducing Milwaukee's infant mortality rate must be one of the community's top priorities. Mayor Barrett echoes that sentiment in his "State of the City" address on Monday.
"We have to do a better job on reducing the infant mortality rate due to prematurity and that's one of the stickiest ones to deal with," Mayor Barrett said.
The Milwaukee Health Department has studied this problem for more than 20 years.
The latest study, released last week, found that between 2009 and 2011, 318 babies died before their first birthday. Complications due to premature birth caused about 60% of those tragedies, while SIDS and accidental suffocation accounted for about 15%.
"For every baby that dies due to an unsafe sleep incident, there are four babies dying in this city due to complications of prematurity," Mayor Barrett said.
The study also reveals the problem is far more prevalent in the African-American community. Nearly two-thirds of the infants who died were African-American.
"We cannot ignore the impact that racism and poverty have had on maternal and child health outcomes. We need to talk about it. We need to address it very aggressively if we're gonna get to the root of this," Angresano said.
The United Way says the solution begins with connection families to the people who can help.
"Milwaukee is blessed with social service agencies and healthcare institutions that do extraordinary work every day. But there has been an absence of collaboration and coordination," Angresano said.
Both the United Way and the Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin say prenatal education is huge.
They also say this is more than a maternal matter -- saying it's a family issue. To that extent, they are working to keep fathers involved throughout the pregnancy -- saying there's a link between healthy, employed fathers and improved birth outcomes.
CLICK HERE for information on infant mortality via the United Way of Greater Milwaukee's website.
CLICK HERE for information on the Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin's "Milwaukee Healthy Beginnings" program.
CLICK HERE for information on infant mortality via the Milwaukee Health Department's website.