A new report on perinatal care in Manitoba suggests more resources are needed for pregnant women and moms of newborns in inner-city Winnipeg and the North.
The report, published Thursday by the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy, found in some parts of the province, infant mortality rates are twice as high as the national average.
Manitoba's infant mortality rate, at 5.2 deaths per 1,000 births, is higher than the Canadian average (4). But in the North, the rate soars to between 9.2 and 9.5 deaths per 1,000 births. And in inner-city neighbourhoods such as Point Douglas and downtown Winnipeg, it stands at 7.3 and 7.4 deaths per 1,000 births respectively.
The 431-page study said babies were more likely to die before their first birthday if their mothers were younger than 25, had low incomes or education, smoked, had inadequate prenatal care or were not breastfed.
Some of the main causes of infant deaths beyond the first four weeks of life were sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and injury.
"This points to concerns about living conditions for infants after they go home," the report said.
"One of the most notable messages in this study is that as mothers' social and economic circumstances declined, the health of newborns declined as well," said the study's lead researcher, Dr. Maureen Heaman.
Some 18.9 per cent of children born during the study period were to women with less than a Grade 12 education. Fourteen per cent of families were receiving income assistance. And nearly 30 per cent were receiving the healthy-baby prenatal benefit, which is available only to families with a net income of less than $32,000.
Heaman said breastfeeding rates are lower in the North and inner-city Winnipeg. Meanwhile, smoking rates among mothers are higher in these areas.
Areas with high infant mortality rates are also ones with relatively low rates of prenatal care.
Health care may be universal, Heaman said, but "there are some kinds of barriers at play that are preventing women from accessing or using prenatal care to the extent that they should."
Provincial Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard, a pediatrician, said the report shows government needs to focus more attention on northern and inner-city communities. "There needs to be a real effort to make sure that those areas have adequate perinatal services so that mothers are coming (for care) in the first trimester, not later, and they're getting an adequate number of visits," he said.
The report also showed the percentage of Manitoba women who drank alcohol while pregnant rose from 2003-04 to 2008-09. In Winnipeg, the rate grew from 10.8 per cent to 12.2 per cent in that period.
Gerrard said the disturbing trend suggests the province may need to revamp education programs pointing to the dangers of alcohol consumption during pregnancy. "Clearly what's happening at the moment is not effective," he said.
Within the city, pregnant women were more likely to drink alcohol in St. Boniface (21.1%), Inkster (19.2%), downtown (18.2%) and Point Douglas (23.8%) and less likely in River Heights (5%), Fort Garry (6.4%), Assiniboine South (7.6%), St. James-Assiniboia (8%) and St. Vital (10%).
9.1 per cent of births in Manitoba from 2007-09 involved teen mothers, compared with 4.8 per cent across Canada.
Infertility treatments were employed in two per cent of Manitoba births (no equivalent national data).
13.6 per cent of moms drank alcohol during pregnancy (10.5 per cent across Canada).
18.5 per cent of mothers smoked during pregnancy (10.5 per cent across Canada).
3.6 per cent of births were to mothers who used street drugs during pregnancy (one per cent nationally).
7.3 per cent of babies were small for their gestational age, slightly lower than the national average.
15 per cent of babies were large for their gestational age (11.1 per cent nationally).
79 per cent of babies started breastfeeding before leaving hospital (90.3 per cent nationally).
Infant mortality (within one year of birth) was 5.2 deaths per 1,000 live births (four deaths per 1,000 live births nationally).
-- source: Perinatal Services and Outcomes in Manitoba