Throughout the month of September, organizations come together to raise awareness about a sad, but very important topic: infant mortality. Infant mortality is the death of a baby before his first birthday. During this time leaders talk about solutions that will improve overall infant mortality and address the persistent racial and ethnic disparities seen in infant mortality rates in this country.
Although the rate of infant death in the United States has improved in recent years, racial and ethnic disparities (differences) in infant mortality rates continues to be a major problem in this country.
Infant mortality in the United States
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (also called CDC), in 2017 the infant mortality rate in the United States was 5.8 deaths per 1,000 live births. However, when looking at infant mortality rates by race and ethnicity, the rate of infant death among black babies was 11.4 per 1,000 live births compared to 4.9 per 1,000 live births among white babies. The rate of infant mortality was also high among American Indian/Alaska Native babies at 9.4. per 1,000 live births. This is unacceptable.
Causes of infant mortality
In 2017 the five leading causes of infant death were:
- Birth defects
- Premature birth and low birthweight
- Maternal pregnancy complications
- Sudden infant death syndrome (also called SIDS)
- Injuries (for example suffocation). Suffocation means not being able to breathe.
Preventing infant mortality
Not all causes of infant mortality can be prevented. But having a healthy pregnancy may increase the chance of having a healthy baby. For example, you can help reduce your risk of having a premature birth, pregnancy complications, or having a low birthweight by:
- Getting a preconception checkup
- Staying at a healthy weight
- Not smoking, drinking alcohol or doing street drugs during pregnancy
- Waiting at least 18 months between giving birth and getting pregnant again
Getting early and regular prenatal care during pregnancy are also key parts of a healthy pregnancy. After your baby is born put your baby to sleep on her back on a flat, firm surface (like a crib mattress). The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that you and your baby sleep in the same room, but not in the same bed, for the first year of your baby’s life, but at least for the first 6 months.
Finding long-term solutions
March of Dimes supports research, community programs, and advocates for policies that aim to reduce health disparities and make sure that all babies have a healthy start in life. Read about March of Dimes’ Health Equity Workgroup to learn more about what we are doing to help level the playing field and achieve health equity.