September is national infant mortality awareness month. Several Triad agencies are holding special events to remember the babies who have died in their communities. On Wednesday, The Guilford County Coalition on Infant Mortality and other local agencies hosted a “Walk to Remember” in downtown Greensboro.

Volunteers pushed 45 empty strollers through downtown Greensboro. That's the number of babies who died in Guilford County in 2011 before their first birthday.

“It's really about raising community awareness. When we talk about a rate or statistic with infant mortality, people tend not to assign a face or family or relationship with the baby that has died. We want to say it's here happening in our community and it could happen to anyone,” says Charmaine Purdum, coordinator with the Guilford County Coalition on Infant Mortality.

The infant mortality rate is the number of infants who die, for every 1,000 live births, within a given time frame.

In 1988, North Carolina was ranked among the worst states in the nation for infant mortality with 12.6 deaths per 1,000 live births. In 2011, the state rate had dropped to 7.2.

Tanya Bailey is a certified nurse midwife at Wendover OB/GYN Infertility in Greensboro and also helped organize the event. She says low birth weight is one of the leading causes of infant mortality.

“Pre-term birth and low birth weight is definitely a factor in our area along with Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), and so we are trying to increase awareness that this still happens and put in place things to help people decrease their risk factors. For example, with Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, knowing safe sleeping patterns for babies and decreasing smoking cessation and exposure to second hand smoke, especially in that first year of life,” says Bailey.

The Coalition also partnered with the Guilford County Department of Public Health, the March of Dimes, the Nurse Family Partnership and the Children's Home Society for the event.

Nohelia Turner  of Greensboro pushed a stroller for her sister, who lost her infant child two years ago. She says the support her family has received from local agencies is overwhelming.

“I'm so pleased to be able to participate in the program. They offered support to my sister and it was amazing and helped her cope greatly. We are thankful to have people like this in the community,” says Turner.

N.C. State Senator Gladys Robinson, who represents District 28, is also the executive director of the Piedmont Health Services & Sickle Cell Agency. Robinson would like to see more support on the issue from policy makers in Raleigh. 

She says, “My agency and my whole history is about health disparities, health issues and access. Infant mortality is a serious issue and I'm not sure a lot of people recognize that. They don't understand that a lot of mothers lose their babies due to a lack of access to healthcare and pre-natal care, so there is something wrong with that and we need to do more,” says Robinson.

A colorful clothesline of 45 baby hats also was displayed during the event at Center City Park. Trudy Tobias got a lot of support from her co-workers during the walk. They wore name tags in memory of her infant son Alexander Reid Tobias.

“I work for the Family Life Education Services Division of Children's Home Society, so this event touches me on a personal level, as well as a professional level. In 1987, 26 years ago, I lost my own infant son. He had toxemia and was born prematurely to save my life and he only lived six days, so it is really important to realize everything we can do to prevent other mothers from going through what I went through,” says Tobias.

Public health officials say they expect the 2012 state infant mortality rates to be released in the coming weeks. 

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