Following 2010’s sharpest decline on record, North Carolina’s infant mortality rate rose only slightly for 2011 while deaths attributed to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) continued to plummet, according to statistics released Monday by the Department of Health and Human Services. The 2011 rate of 7.2 deaths per 1,000 live births is the state’s second lowest in history. For 2010, it was a record 7.0 deaths per 1,000 live births. Since 2008, the infant mortality rate has dropped 12.2 percent from a rate of 8.2 deaths per 1,000 live births. The health of women before, between and beyond pregnancies directly influences the health of their infants. Continued challenges identified in the 2011 data include: 1--Nearly half of pregnant women were overweight (24.3 percent) or obese (23.7 percent). Obesity among mothers continues to be a concern because it increases their risk for Cesarean section delivery, longer hospital stays, gestational hypertension and diabetes, fetal death and birth defects. 2--Nearly 11 percent of women reported smoking during pregnancy. 3--An 8 percent increase in the Hispanic infant mortality rate. 4--A mortality rate among African Americans that is more than twice the rate for whites. North Carolina continues to seek effective ways to reduce infant deaths and to eliminate disparities in birth outcomes.