Ball State is in Delaware County, which has an infant mortality rate that is almost three times the national average.

Jean Marie Place, an assistant professor of health science, is on a mission to bring that number down.

When we lift up women and we lift up children, we are lifting up communities. We are helping families to thrive. Addressing and investing in women and children is key to a healthy community.

Place is a maternal and child health researcher. She studies how adverse experiences affect women’s reproductive lives. This includes everything from infertility to post-partum depression.

Her research has uncovered that the public associates infant mortality with child abuse. In reality, the biggest predictor of infant mortality is whether the mother had a healthy pregnancy.

“We need to reframe the conversation around the true cause,” she said. “We need to prevent problems during pregnancy, so that when the baby arrives it has the best chance at surviving that critical first year.”

Place has been teaching students enrolled in Ball State’s College of Heath since 2014.

She holds a Ph.D. and two master’s degrees from the University of South Carolina in health programs, and a bachelor’s degree from Utah State University in anthropology. She has published numerous refereed research articles on topics such as women’s rape experiences in Guatemalan health services and adolescent access to contraception information in Mexico.

Closer to home, Place has helped IU Health Ball Memorial Family Medicine Residency Center in Muncie operate group prenatal care.

In group prenatal care, physicians interact with women in a group setting, facilitate discussions—from self-care during pregnancy to breastfeeding—and elicit conversations about women’s concerns and experiences.  Participants report that the support they receive from other women in their group is the best part.

The bottom line of this work is to “help moms in Indiana have healthy pregnancies.”

For her, the motivation is simple: “I do it because I believe in women and children.”

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