FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — A report by a maternity advocacy group says Arkansas’ infant mortality rate is above the national average.

March of Dimes is an organization that uses research, advocacy and education to help give mother’s and babies the best possible start in life.

According to the organization’s research Arkansas is a maternity care desert.

“Arkansas has a higher than average percentage of counties that are maternity care deserts,” said Honour McDaniel with March of Dimes.

Counties classified as being a maternity care desert means there is no hospital or birth center offering obstetric care in those areas. 

According to McDaniel, being so far away from prenatal care is bad for both the mom and baby’s health. 

Let’s say the closest place is 30 minutes away for her to get her care,” said McDaniel. “She now has to think through how am I going to get off work? How am I going to find childcare if I have other kids? I need to make sure I have reliable transportation.”

McDaniel says if a mother is high risk of having complications during pregnancy she will have to get prenatal care more often. 

“She has cardiovascular issues, she maybe has hypertension, or diabetes or she smokes, all of this can put her at higher risk,” said McDaniel.

According to the March of Dimes 2022 report the nation’s infant mortality rate is 5.4% while Arkansas’ infant mortality rate is 7.3%. The report also showed preterm birth rates in Arkansas is at 12%.

Despite the maternal care challenges Arkansas has, McDaniel says she is seeing progress.

“It’s great that Arkansas expanded Medicaid,” said McDaniel. “We are also looking at can we extend post-partum Medicaid beyond 60 days? Because we have moms that don’t get healthy right after pregnancy.”

According to McDaniel, the leading cause of infant death in Arkansas is birth defects and preterm birth.