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Iowa is considered a leader in lowering the rate of stillbirth; two of the state's congresswomen want to help the rest of the country follow suit

03252022-Stillbirths
Alicia Petresc
/
Unsplash
Since the beginning of its Count the Kicks program, Healthy Birthday Inc. has found Iowa's stillbirths have decreased by 32 percent while many other states have remained stagnant.

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Two of Iowa’s members of Congress are co-sponsoring a bill (Maternal and Child Health Stillbirth Prevention Act) that would clarify that stillbirth prevention activities can be funded through the Maternal and Child Health Services Block Grant—which is allocated to every state health department. There is a companion bill in the U.S. Senate as well.

Both 1st District Republican Rep. Ashley Hinson and 3rd District Democratic Rep. Cindy Axne are co-sponsoring the bill, along with more bipartisan co-sponsors in other states.

"Stillbirths devastate thousands of families each year, and we have to be doing everything we can to help reduce the risk of stillbirths,” Axne said. “This bipartisan legislation will provide much-needed funding to support the health of mothers and babies in Iowa and across the country, and I’m proud to be working with my colleagues to combat this silent crisis."

The bipartisan and bicameral bill has already received local support.

The Iowa-based nonprofit Healthy Birth Day Inc. works to prevent stillbirths and runs the Count the Kicks program. Executive director Emily Price said the addition to the Block Grant language will make a big difference for thousands of families if it passes.

“This legislation would be a monumental and symbolic move to show all state health departments that they need to pay attention to stillbirth that they need to put funding and awareness behind this so that more babies can arrive safely," she said.

Studies show women of color and women living in rural areas are at higher risk of stillbirth and other maternal health complications. Hinson said she wants to highlight the problem, since it can still seem taboo.

“We want to be explicit. This code section hasn't been updated for literally decades. So it's high time that we recognize that this is something we should be talking about. These people need our support, regardless of their skin color and regardless of their zip code," she said.

She added specific funding for stillbirth prevention could also make a big impact on women living in maternal care deserts, since it could also help support a larger outreach foundation.

Title V of the Social Security Act, Price explained, is the largest funding mechanism in the country for maternal child health issues. That's where the grant comes from.

"That is an egregious omission that stillbirth has never been listed in Title V since it began in 1935," Price added.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates stillbirths occur in one in 160 births in the U.S. The same number goes for how many infants die within their first year of life. The World Health Organization has found more than 40 percent of stillbirths that occur during labor or birth can be prevented.

Since the kick off of Healthy Birth Day Inc.'s Count the Kick program, it reported Iowa's stillbirth rate has decreased by 32 percent. Price said Iowa's Department of Public Health is one of the few that does offer support for stillbirth prevention.

"Our stillbirth prevention efforts is reaching women and communities that have been marginalized with this education that they deserve to have to have better birth outcomes," Executive Director Price said.

Count the Kicks is a free app provided in 14 different languages. It is also available in low literacy form, utilizing pictures to help women of all backgrounds and education levels. The bill does not specifically include language services, but it it passes, it would offer financial support for states to fund translated stillbirth prevention literature.

Kassidy was a reporter based in Des Moines