LAFAYETTE — In 2008, some 74 babies born in Acadiana died before they reached their first birthday.

That same year, 26 children under the age of 15 lost their lives due to fatal injuries or accidents.

Those statistics were shared by health professionals during an event Wednesday in observance of National Infant Mortality Awareness Month.

Baby- and child-sized footprints symbolizing the 100 lives were displayed at the event, held along the Vermilion River at Rotary Point.

“We’re here to acknowledge today that when a family loses a child, our whole community loses a child,” said Joan Conway, a registered nurse who is regional coordinator of the Office of Public Health’s Maternal and Child Health program.

The state leads the nation in infant mortality, according to 2008 statistics, the most-recent available, Conway said.

The rate is a measure of the number of babies per 1,000 born that never reach their first birthday.

In Louisiana, the rate was 9.1; and for the seven-parish Acadiana region, the rate was 8.3, according to information provided at Wednesday’s event.

Not much progress has been made in lowering those numbers, said Dr. Kenneth Brown, chairman of the Acadiana Fetal and Infant Mortality Review team. The team examines causes and factors associated with the deaths.

Brown said special outreach efforts are needed in the black community, where the infant mortality rate is even higher.

In 2008, the infant mortality rate for black children was 13.2 statewide and 12.9 in the Acadiana region.

One recent development from the team’s meetings is the newly organized Acadiana Breastfeeding Coalition.

Statistics show that infant mortality rates are lower among babies who are breastfed, said Evelyn Landry, a retired registered nurse who leads the coalition.

Landry said a recent U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report card shows that less than half of new mothers initiated breastfeeding, and the rate was lower among black women.

“Breast milk is the perfect infant nutrition,” Landry said, noting the “liquid gold” is the baby’s first immunization.

But barriers such as workplace concerns prevent some mothers from breastfeeding, she said.

The coalition has launched a breastfeeding awareness campaign with signs on city buses. Landry said efforts will soon get under way to solicit businesses willing to display “Breastfeeding is Welcome Here” signs. The coalition also has kits available for women interested in creating a lactation room in their workplace.

The leading cause of deaths for infants is pre-term birth, while motor vehicle accidents is the leading cause of death for children under age 15, said Tracy LeMaire, regional coordinator of child safety for the state Office of Public Health.

Two years ago, community support led to the creation of the memorial site at Rotary Point for families that have experienced loss and for health-care professionals who deal with the loss of young patients.