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Utahns are helping develop a campaign to improve the health of American Indian babies and mothers.

As part of a national effort to reduce infant deaths among the group, American Indian mothers and fathers were invited to the Indian Walk-In Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday to brainstorm effective and culturally appropriate ways to promote healthy pregnancies and babies.

"We wanted to get perspectives from American-Indian parents about infant mortality, what a healthy baby means to them, what a safe baby means to them," said Leanna Vankeuren, the center's health program manager.

The Utah center, along with groups in Detroit, Sacramento and Seattle, were given a grant by the Urban Indian Health Institute (UIHI) to help develop and pilot a communications campaign to raise awareness about infant mortality and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

American Indians living in urban areas have a higher infant death rate (8.1 per 1,000 live births) compared to all races in urban areas (6 per 1,000 births), according to the UIHI.

American-Indian babies are more likely than babies of other races to die of congenital anomalies, SIDS and unintentional injuries.

And American-Indian mothers have higher rates of the factors that put them at risk of having a child die: Being a teenage mother, being unmarried, receiving little or no prenatal care and consuming alcohol or smoking while pregnant.

The Indian Walk-In Center interviewed five mothers as part of its Saturday focus group, Vankeuren said.

"It takes a community to raise a child," she said."We would like to also target fathers, that they're part of this process of raising a child."

Shawn Jimerson, the Walk-In Center's development officer, said the campaign will need to do more than include an eagle feather or dream catcher to be relevant.

With American Indians making up just 1 percent of the U.S. population, the campaign could highlight the importance of keeping babies safe for the survival of the tribe, he said.

Other efforts have reached out to American-Indian parents in culturally appropriate ways. A federally funded "Healthy Native Babies Project" for tribes in South Dakota, Alaska, Minnesota and Montana recently provided grants that paid for programs including a SIDS-prevention class focused on cradleboards, the baby carriers used by American Indians. Elders and grandmothers were invited on the last class to participate in a cradleboard blessing ceremony.

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