Medical student works to reduce infant deaths

Kristen Slaymaker
Kristen Slaymaker

By Betsy Friauf

Third-year medical student Kristen Slaymaker is working to change Tarrant County’s soaring infant mortality rate.

Her research on unsafe sleeping conditions for babies is winning awards, and she is seeking ways to educate parents so they can keep their babies safer at night.

“We found that it’s not unusual for mothers we see at UNT Health Science Center’s Patient Care Center to have their babies sleep in bed with them to make it easier to breastfeed,” Slaymaker said. “Of course, we do encourage them to breastfeed, but a parent sleeping on the same surface as the baby increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS and other sleep-related causes of infant death.”

Tarrant County’s rate has been high for decades. Seven babies out of every 1,000 born in Tarrant County die before their first birthday. That’s more babies dying than in any other high-population Texas county, and more than the national rate. In parts of central, southeast and southwest Tarrant County, the rate is around 9.9.

Nationally, there’s good news in the effort to lower the infant mortality rate. Last year, the percentage of babies dying fell to a new low of 5.36 per 1,000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Slaymaker conducted her research as the result of a collaborative program between UNTHSC and Cook Children’s Medical Center.

The program provides students in the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine with opportunities to do research. She was mentored by Paul Bowman, MD, Chairman and Professor of Pediatrics; and Amy Raines-Milenkov, DrPH, Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Slaymaker’s research paper, titled “Prevalence of Infant Bed-sharing in Breastfeeding Mothers,” was awarded first place in its category at this year’s meeting of the Texas Pediatric Society. In addition, she presented her findings at the Tarrant County Infant Health Summit and will do so again at the Cook Children’s Research Day in January.

Slaymaker is finishing a demanding surgery rotation at Fort Worth’s Plaza Medical Center.

Her work with UNTHSC’s Pediatric Mobile Clinic, which takes medical care to disadvantaged schools, sparked her interest in helping the underserved. “Sometimes there is disconnect between provider recommendations and how patients interpret or apply this information,” she said. “I want to improve this communication between patient and provider.”

She plans to work with parenting groups to educate parents on safe sleeping practices for their babies.

Said Dr. Bowman, “I am very pleased that Kristen is working so hard as an advocate for improving infant health and safety. The study factors that may contribute to infant mortality are essential to identifying opportunities to reduce these tragic events.”

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