Infant Mortality Facts
The Problem of Infant Mortality
Infant mortality is defined as death before the age of one. In 2016, the United States infant mortality rate was 5.9 deaths out of 1000 live births.
This issue has been heavily featured in our local Jacksonville paper in Duval County, FL, as the infant death rate here is higher here than the US average. Florida Blue is contributing $50,000 for a study conducted by two local pediatric hospitals to understand why.
Unfortunately, the infant mortality rate for African American families (12.5) in this area is double the rate in Caucasian families (5.2). This may be due to poverty or other reasons. As an example, some parents have their infant sleeping in their bed because they have no crib or due to fear for the child's safety. There is also a possible lack of prenatal care due to the mother having an addiction problem or just a lack of knowledge concerning prenatal care.
You would assume that the infant mortality is decreasing with all the advances in medicine, but the decline is minimal. Prenatal care is essential for detecting possible problems with the mother and the baby. There are many reasons for problems during pregnancy, which include preeclampsia, placenta previa and an incompetent cervix to name just a few.
World Infant Mortality Rates (per 1000 Live Births)
The following data is sourced from the CIA World Factbook and reflects 2017 estimates.
Countries With the Lowest Infant Mortality Rate
- Monaco 1.8
- Japan 2.0
- Iceland 2.1
- Singapore 2.4
- Norway 2.5
- Finland 2.5
- Bermuda 2.5
- Sweden 2.6
- Czech Republic 2.6
- Hong Kong 2.7
Countries With the Highest Infant Mortality Rate
- Afghanistan 110.6
- Somalia 94.8
- Central African Republic 86.3
- Guinea-Bissau 85.7
- Chad 85.4
- Niger 81.1
- Burkina Faso 72.2
- Nigeria 69.8
- Mali 69.5
- Sierra Leone 68.4
Where Does the United States Fall?
According to a 2016 CDC report, the infant mortality rate in the United States is 5.9 deaths per 1000 live births.
What Is Perinatal Mortality?
A baby is an inestimable blessing and bother.— Mark Twain
What Are the Leading Causes of Infant Death in the US?
In 2016, the primary causes of infant mortality in the United States were:
- Birth defects
- Premature births and low birth weight
- Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
- Pregnancy complications, such as diabetes or infections
- Injuries (e.g. suffocation, burns, traffic accidents)
Developmental disabilities may begin before birth, although some may occur due to infections, injuries, or other factors. The causes are often unknown, but they are thought to be a mixture of various factors. Genetics, smoking, drinking alcohol during pregnancy, infections or environmental toxins may all cause developmental problems.
Babies with down syndrome (trisomy 21) are born with an extra copy of chromosome 21 (three copies instead of two). Chromosomes are combinations of genetic information from our parents that govern our biology, determining things such as eye color, blood type, and disease risks. Approximately 1 in 700 babies in the US are born with down syndrome.
Cerebral Palsy (CP)
Cerebral palsy is the most common childhood motor disability, affecting 1 in 323 children. Children with cerebral palsy have abnormal brain development that affect their control of movement, posture, and balance. Cases of cerebral palsy can be mild, chronic, or even fatal. Children with CP may also have intellectual disabilities, seizures, spinal abnormalities, and problems with vision, speech, or hearing.
Jaundice—a high level of bilirubin in their blood that can cause yellowing of the skin and/or the whites of the eyes—can be a problem even with full-term births. In infants, it generally goes away on its own or can be easily treated. However, in rare instances, if left untreated, jaundice can cause death in infants.
1 in Every 33 Babies Is Born With a Birth Defect
Premature Births and Low Birth Weights
The second most common cause of infant deaths is premature birth (preterm labor) that usually results in a low birth weight. However, even full-term pregnancies may sometimes result in a baby with low birth weight. If a woman has had a previous preterm birth, she would be at a higher risk in a second pregnancy.
Babies need to stay in the womb for a least 32 weeks as their body continues to develop throughout each week of pregnancy. The brain, lungs, and liver are not sufficiently developed.
Low birth weight can result in serious breathing problems as the infant’s lungs may not be fully developed. There are medications to treat early contractions. The best outcome requires quality prenatal care. In addition, it is wise to prepare for pregnancy by living a healthy lifestyle.
CDC estimates from 2015 revealed that babies born before 32 weeks had a 17% death rate, and even those that survived had a higher rate of disability. An induction or Caesarean birth (C-section) should not be done before the 39th week unless there is a medical emergency.
What Is Considered a Preterm Birth?
An infant is considered to be preterm if they are born before 37 weeks of pregnancy. The sub-categories for preterm infants are based on gestational age:
- From 32 to 37 weeks is moderate to late preterm
- From 28 to 32 weeks an infant is very preterm
- Less than 28 weeks is extremely preterm
Early Signs of Preterm Labor:
- Contractions every 10 minutes or more frequently
- A change in the amount of vaginal discharge, with leaking fluid or blood
- The feeling that the baby is pushing down and increasing pressure
- Cramping that feels similar to a menstrual period
- A dull and low backache
- Abdominal cramping that does not result in diarrhea
Unusual breathing problems
If you notice any of these signs, or if these symptoms worsen, call your doctor or the ER right away.
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is the unexplained death of an infant under the age of one, usually during sleep. While the number of SIDS cases is declining, 3,500 babies die in the US due to SIDS each year. Possible causes of infant death include respiratory infections, accidental suffocations, auto accidents, and other causes. Lying a baby on their back is thought to help prevent SIDS. It is important to keep small, soft objects away from the child’s face, including toys, crib bumpers or even loose bedding.
Infections that may complicate pregnancy include HIV, HPV, hepatitis B, tuberculosis, urinary tract infections (UTIs), and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Vaccinations can help prevent serious infections from developing. Regular check-ups are also helpful because they allow early detection of any complications that may arise, giving the doctor enough time to treat the disease early.
A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2008 found that obesity during pregnancy is associated with increased use of health care services, suggesting there are increased health risks that need to be addressed for a safe birth. Although it is normal to gain weight throughout pregnancy, extreme weight gains (or losses) should discussed with your doctor.
Other problems during pregnancy include anemia, diabetes, and mental health problems. Extreme stress or depression may negatively impact a child's health by interfering with your appetite, sleep, energy levels, hormones. Even problems with concentration and decision-making can be major issues.
Woman with other chronic illnesses may also have a more difficult pregnancy.
Hyperemesis gravidarum—morning sickness—is most common during the first three months of pregnancy. Symptoms include nausea and vomiting—often upon waking up. It is believed to be related to rapidly rising levels of hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin) in the blood, a hormone that is released by the placenta. If the morning sickness is severe, it may lead to extreme weight loss and dehydration that will put you and your baby at risk. Tell your doctor right away since intensive care may be required.
Exposure to radiation or certain chemicals, taking certain medications, or eating certain foods may also lead to complications. Any changes in medication or diet and other uncertainties should be discussed with your doctor.
How To Fix The High Infant Mortality Rate
How Can Infant Death Be Prevented?
There are no definitive ways to prevent many of the leading causes of infant mortality. However, increasing an infant’s chances of survival is possible, and research is ongoing.
It's advisable to talk with your doctor about ways to best ensure a safe and healthy birth. Some general tips include:
- Living a healthy lifestyle (i.e. eating healthy and exercising)
- Managing your weight.
- Taking enough folic acid during pregnancy prevents neural tube defects.
- Not smoking, no drinking alcohol or taking any illicit drugs
Infant death is a heartbreaking problem in the United States. It is so important to be as healthy as possible before conceiving, and to remain healthy during the pregnancy. Seeing a gynecologist regularly will help prevent problems that may occur during pregnancy. They can recognize and treat problems as they arise.
Questions & Answers
© 2018 Pamela Oglesby