In 1996, Maine had the lowest infant mortality rate in the country and, some said, the world. For every 1,000 babies born, just 4.4 died before their first birthday.

Nearly 20 years later, in 2014, Maine ranked 37th among the states for its infant mortality rate of 6.7 per 1,000 births, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Meanwhile, other states and countries improved.

In 2014, England and Wales saw their lowest ever infant mortality rate: 3.6 deaths per 1,000 births.

It’s not clear exactly where Maine is going wrong. There are many general things that could contribute to infant deaths: access to prenatal care or health care, support in the first year, prematurity, low birth weight, smoking or unsafe sleep environments.

Some people may point to poverty. The number of Maine children living in extreme poverty — classified as about $10,000 for a family of three — increased 35 percent between 2010 and 2014, while the national rate fell, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count Data Center.

But poverty alone doesn’t mean a baby will die. Rather, as researchers are learning, the gap in mortality rates between the U.S. and other wealthy countries may be driven by a lack of knowledge and support — often exacerbated by poverty.

The rate of deaths between the first month and first year is far lower among those who are “advantaged” — meaning mothers with high levels of education who are married and white, economists Alice Chen, Emily Oster and Heidi Williams wrote in a study published in the American Economic Journal: Economic Policy in May.

But what kind of support are new Maine moms and dads missing? What information are they not getting?

Maine can learn from a place like Britain, which has a mandatory, confidential review process of every maternal, newborn and infant death to better understand what happened and how improvements can be made.

As The New York Times recently pointed out, it may be easier to conduct such reviews with Britain’s single-payer, government-run health system, but it’s certainly possible for states to develop similar initiatives.

In fact, Maine already has — though in name only.

Called the Maine Maternal, Fetal and Infant Mortality Review Panel, it’s supposed to review the deaths of women during pregnancy and new moms, deaths of fetuses after 28 weeks of pregnancy and deaths of infants under 1 year of age. But it’s conducted fewer than six interviews of parents in the last decade and didn’t meet at all in 2015.

The panel is restricted by two main things: It needs a family’s consent before viewing any state or medical records, and it has to wait four months after the death of the infant to contact the family for that permission or an interview.

This is not how Britain operates, and it’s not what health experts in the U.S. recommend. Maine needs to have a robust system in place to streamline medical data collection from hospitals, and reach out to families as needed and appropriate.

We assume Maine legislators want to prevent babies from dying. They have a model to learn from, a framework to improve upon rather than build from scratch, and an increasing number of infant deaths with no solid understanding of why. When they get to work after the November elections, they should make the issue a priority.

The BDN Editorial Board

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Editorial Page Editor Susan Young, Assistant Editorial Page Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked...