Infant Mortality Facts

Updated on November 6, 2018
Pamela99 profile image

I spent 22 years in the nursing profession, and I enjoy writing about medical issues. I'm also interested in history, genealogy, and travel.

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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 map showing deaths per 1000 live births. Data sourced from the Population Reference Bureau, 2009.
World infant mortality rates map showing deaths per 1000 live births. Data sourced from the Population Reference Bureau, 2009. | Source

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

  1. Monaco 1.8
  2. Japan 2.0
  3. Iceland 2.1
  4. Singapore 2.4
  5. Norway 2.5
  6. Finland 2.5
  7. Bermuda 2.5
  8. Sweden 2.6
  9. Czech Republic 2.6
  10. Hong Kong 2.7

Countries With the Highest Infant Mortality Rate

  1. Afghanistan 110.6
  2. Somalia 94.8
  3. Central African Republic 86.3
  4. Guinea-Bissau 85.7
  5. Chad 85.4
  6. Niger 81.1
  7. Burkina Faso 72.2
  8. Nigeria 69.8
  9. Mali 69.5
  10. 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:

  1. Birth defects
  2. Premature births and low birth weight
  3. Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
  4. Pregnancy complications, such as diabetes or infections
  5. Injuries (e.g. suffocation, burns, traffic accidents)

Birth Defects

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.

Down Syndrome

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

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.

Pregnancy Complications

Infections

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.

Obesity

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 Complications

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

Summary

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

    Comments

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    • Miebakagh57 profile image

      Miebakagh Fiberesima 

      4 days ago from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA.

      Pamela, you are welcomed. People reading this story will also be sharing the same. Thank you.

    • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Pamela Oglesby 

      4 days ago from Sunny Florida

      Thank you Miebakagh. Your input is always appreciated.

    • Miebakagh57 profile image

      Miebakagh Fiberesima 

      5 days ago from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA.

      Hey, Pamela, you are welcomed. Have a nice day.

    • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Pamela Oglesby 

      5 days ago from Sunny Florida

      Maria, I wrote this article to try and raise awareness as I believe it is the key also. I appreciate your comments Maria.

    • marcoujor profile image

      Maria Jordan 

      5 days ago from Jeffersonville PA

      Thank you for sharing this important information, dear Pamela.

      I cannot imagine a more heartbreaking loss - raising awareness is key and needs to be ongoing.

    • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Pamela Oglesby 

      9 days ago from Sunny Florida

      Peggy, That loss is so difficult, and the baby probably died from SIDS as there seems to be no distress, The baby simply goes to sleep and doesn't wake up. I am glad your neighbor is pregnant agaon and hope all goes well.

      I appreciate your comments.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      10 days ago from Houston, Texas

      It is heartbreaking to lose babies. Neighbors of ours lost one only a few hours old. The mother is educated and did everything right. As you pointed out, sometimes it "is a God thing." At least they can draw some comfort that their little girl is in heaven. She is once again pregnant.

    • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Pamela Oglesby 

      10 days ago from Sunny Florida

      Yves, I agree that babies are a miracle. My grandmother lost a newborn baby. She stated someone in the hospital left the window open in cool weather, then she got pneumonia. Obviously, that may not be why the little girl died, but it is what that were told.

      This is a problem we really need to solve. Thanks so much for your comments.

    • savvydating profile image

      Yves 

      11 days ago

      You have inspired me to check on how often babies died back in the 30's, especially to poor people who may not have had their children in hospitals. My grandma lost some babies; consequently, I am interested in that time period.

      A very useful and interesting article, Pamela. Babies are quite the miracle. We must do what we can to help their survival.

    • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Pamela Oglesby 

      12 days ago from Sunny Florida

      Rachel, i am sorry to hear about your mother's experiece, but back in the day they really didn't know what to do about so many problems with newborns. There has been progress, but we have a long way to go. Thans so much for your comments. I wish you a blessed Thanksgiving also.

    • Rachel L Alba profile image

      Rachel L Alba 

      12 days ago from Every Day Cooking and Baking

      Hi Pamela. I never realized what a problem newborn deaths is and especially birth defects. One out of 33 is quite a problem. My mother had a baby that died. She was born before I was. She just cried all the time, but back in those days, they didn't know much about birth defects. They did an autopsy and found out she was born with a bad appendix with burst and the doctors had no idea about it. Poor baby was born to suffer. My mother never quite got over it even though she had three more children after that. This was a great article. Thanks for sharing.

      Have a blessed Thanksgiving.

    • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Pamela Oglesby 

      12 days ago from Sunny Florida

      Hi Pop, I think that is the only solution. More education about the importance of prenatal care, and some education about dos and don'ts after you get home with the baby. Thanks for your suggestions.

    • breakfastpop profile image

      breakfastpop 

      12 days ago

      It is shocking to realize that despite great leaps in science, we have not gotten very far in preventing infant mortality. We need to educate young woman about the importance of pre-natal care, and make sure that they can access the services they need.

    • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Pamela Oglesby 

      12 days ago from Sunny Florida

      Gerry, I hope this article does helps people have more understanding about this serious problem. Thank you so much for your very kind comments.

    • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Pamela Oglesby 

      12 days ago from Sunny Florida

      Linda, This is a serious problem and a heartbreaking one for families that lose an infant. I hope these numbers improve also. Thanks for your comments.

    • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Pamela Oglesby 

      12 days ago from Sunny Florida

      Flourish, The information has changed over the years. I was told to lie my babies on their stomach so if they spit up they wouldn't choke. They have found prventing SIDS works better with babies sleeping on their backs. I wonder how my 3 boys survived sometmes. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

    • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Pamela Oglesby 

      12 days ago from Sunny Florida

      Natalie, I certainly believe this is a very serious problem, and we as a nation and all nations have work to do if this problem improves. I agrfee that poverty, homelessness, malnutrition, and lack of access to education are all components if this problem. I appreciate your comments.

    • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Pamela Oglesby 

      12 days ago from Sunny Florida

      Miebakagh, I agree that some women do not take care of themselves during pregnancy, and maybe many do not realize the importance. Poverty certainly plays a role as you stated. For me God is always in the equation. Thaks for your comments.

    • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Pamela Oglesby 

      12 days ago from Sunny Florida

      Mykola, That is so true as low birth rate babies can certainly be impacted for life. I appreciate your comments.

    • Gerry Glenn Jones profile image

      Gerry Glenn Jones 

      12 days ago from Somerville, Tennessee

      Pamela, this is a very informative article. It was well investigated and well written. Your expertise in the medical profession is very evident, and I believe these type of articles help many that wish to know more about this subject in order to prevent the same things from happening to their babies.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      13 days ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Infant death is such a tragic situation. Preventing it is a very important goal. I hope the rates that you've shown decrease soon.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 

      13 days ago from USA

      I was surprised by the prevalence rates of birth defects. It’s got to be devastating to lose an infant. I was too ill and exhausted to worry about SIDS. I just assumed everything would be alright. It does seem like the advice they give parents is always changing (i.e., cosleeping ok/not ok, crib bumpers and blankets, swaddling).

    • Natalie Frank profile image

      Natalie Frank 

      13 days ago from Chicago, IL

      This is such a serious problem. When you see the rates of infant mortality both in the US and around the world its devastating. The differences in different segments of society also speak to the disparoties of important healthcare, another terrible effect of poverty, homelessness, malnutrition, and lack of access to education among other problems that affect so many families today. Thank you for writing such a comprehensive article about this crucial topic.

    • Miebakagh57 profile image

      Miebakagh Fiberesima 

      13 days ago from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA.

      Hello, Pamela, thank you for putting a lot into the story. Many women before and during pragnancy will not like to eat naturally healthy meals.They even neglect exercises. As you rightly point out, folic acid is a must fro them, and it is better that they got it from vegetables along with prescriptions made by their OB.

      Much of the complications during pregnancy were as a result of self-prescriptions due to financial handicap. Some females were not deeping God-concious when they take in with a child. God who gave them the fruit of the wonb is their first OB, and these are not thankful.

      And since, they put God out of the equation, they will be failing in other areas like taking the doctor and nurse seriously. That warrant ill-health, and complications. It is no wonder than that the result can spelt doom. Have a nice time.

    • Mykola profile image

      Mykola 

      13 days ago from Ukraine

      Hi, Pamela! Your article for me is very meaningful cause it explains many factors in the life of youths and adults. The trauma received at this period of life remains for all life of the person. Yours.

    • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Pamela Oglesby 

      13 days ago from Sunny Florida

      Nell, I am so sorry to hear of your awful experience, and I am sure that pain does not leave you. Thanks so much for sharing, and I wish you all the best.

    • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Pamela Oglesby 

      13 days ago from Sunny Florida

      We do all lose when an infant dies and there is no apparent reason. This is a difficult topic to take in, but we as a nation need to do better. Thanks for stopping by to comment.

    • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Pamela Oglesby 

      13 days ago from Sunny Florida

      Clive, I think many nations have so many poor people that even simple infections aren't always treated. It is heartbreaking. I appreciate your comments.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      13 days ago from England

      Hi Pamela, a very important hub and good points. I lost four in vitro. 3 were only a few weeks old, but I lost a baby when it was 5 months old, and had to be induced. Its something that stays with you always.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      13 days ago from Olympia, WA

      So very sad! It's one thing for someone my age to die; it's expected! Two months? We all lose when that happens. :(

    • clivewilliams profile image

      Clive Williams 

      13 days ago from Jamaica

      Lots of Info here. Will have to read a second time. The African nations seem like they are racing to see who can kill the most babies.

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