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SD first lady: Infant mortality work will continue

WESSINGTON SPRINGS -- South Dakota First Lady Linda Daugaard's work won't end when the governor leaves office. When Dennis Daugaard's term is up in January 2019, his wife, Linda, says the couple plans to retreat to their home near Garretson and s...

South Dakota First Lady Linda Daugaard speaks Thursday afternoon during the Wessington Springs Shakespeare Garden Society's monthly tea party at Our Savior's Lutheran Church in Wessington Springs. Daugaard was the event's featured speaker. (Caitlynn Peetz/Republic)
South Dakota First Lady Linda Daugaard speaks Thursday afternoon during the Wessington Springs Shakespeare Garden Society's monthly tea party at Our Savior's Lutheran Church in Wessington Springs. Daugaard was the event's featured speaker. (Caitlynn Peetz/Republic)

WESSINGTON SPRINGS - South Dakota First Lady Linda Daugaard's work won't end when the governor leaves office.

When Dennis Daugaard's term is up in January 2019, his wife, Linda, says the couple plans to retreat to their home near Garretson and spend time doing maintenance work on the family's farm and reconnecting with kids and grandchildren.

"And we're ready to retire," Daugaard said. "But you know how that works, you never actually retire."

But at the Shakespeare Garden Society's monthly afternoon reception and tea party Thursday afternoon, Daugaard said she intends to continue her work to reduce infant mortality and early elective deliveries in South Dakota.

Since becoming South Dakota's first lady in January 2011, Linda has worked to promote safe sleeping environments for newborns and, prompted by Dennis, chaired the Governor's Infant Mortality Task Force in 2011.

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"There are new moms every day, so I know this program can't end," Daugaard said. "The Department of Health is really helping me with it and even after I'm not first lady, I'm going to promote that."

Through the task force's research, it was determined there were three aspects contributing to South Dakota's high infant mortality rate: unsafe sleeping environments, early elective deliveries and deficient education for new parents.

Daugaard said babies should sleep on their backs on a firm surface with nothing else in the crib. The task force has given out 7,500 cribs and "packing places" to new parents in South Dakota since 2011, Daugaard said.

Additionally, Daugaard has worked with hospitals to ensure mothers are carrying their babies to term, rather than electing to have early deliveries.

Daugaard also spent time highlighting what she feels are the most rewarding parts of being the first lady.

For the former school librarian, touring the state reading to third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students promoting the importance of reading has proven fulfilling. So far, Daugaard has visited 285 of the state's 464 elementary schools and intends to visit them all.

And, while there was a learning curve when Dennis took office in 2011, Daugaard said the experience has been overwhelmingly positive, reaffirming her love for the state.

"The hardest thing is to filter. I need to filter what I say and keep my mouth closed more, and I think Dennis would agree with me, too," Daugaard joked. "But the best part is ... it's so much fun to visit other communities in South Dakota and find out why it's so great to live there. ... I know why people live here."

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