For every 1,000 babies born in the United States, nearly six babies die before their first birthday – but it doesn’t need to be that way.
September is Infant Mortality Month. Infant mortality is defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as the death of an infant before his or her first birthday. A state or country’s rate of infant death (infant mortality rate) gives us information about the overall health in that location. While the rate of infant death in the United States has improved in recent years, differences in infant mortality rates for certain races and ethnic groups are still an issue.
The causes of infant mortality
According to the CDC, in 2017 the leading causes of infant death in the U.S. are:
- Birth defects. Birth defects are structural changes present at birth that can affect almost any part of the body. They can cause problems in overall health, how the body develops or how the body works.
- Preterm birth and low birthweight. Preterm birth is labor that happens before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Low birthweight is when a baby is born weighing less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces.
- Maternal pregnancy complications. Medical issues during pregnancy, like gestational diabetes and preeclampsia, can cause serious problems for you and your baby.
- Sudden infant death syndrome (also called SIDS or crib death). SIDS is the unexplained death of a baby younger than 1 year old. It usually happens when a baby is sleeping.
- Injuries, such as drowning, poisoning or suffocation. Suffocation means not being able to breathe.
Racial differences in infant mortality
In the U.S., infant mortality rates are not the same for all races. Some races and ethnic groups see higher rates of infant death:
- Black babies are more than 2 times more likely to die before their first birthdays than White babies.
- Black babies are almost 4 times more likely to die from health issues related to low birthweight than White babies.
Similar differences in rates are seen in American Indian/Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian/other Pacific Islander babies as well. March of Dimes is committed to reducing racial disparities and achieving equity for moms and babies in our country. These are complex issues with complex solutions, so it’s important to continue discussing these issues. Because when a society supports every family, the future is brighter for us all. Learn more about health disparities.
Preventing birth defects
Not all causes of infant death can be prevented, but taking steps to have a healthy pregnancy can help. Here are 5 tips to follow to help you be a healthy mom and have a strong baby:
- Ensure you get enough folic acid.
- See your health care provider for a pre-pregnancy checkup.
- Make sure your vaccinations are up-to-date.
- Try to reach a healthy weight before getting pregnant.
- Don’t smoke, drink alcohol or use harmful substances during pregnancy.
COVID-19 and infant death
Much is still unknown about the risks of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) to newborns. According to the CDC, babies have a very low risk of becoming severely sick from COVID-19. Most babies who have tested positive for the disease have had mild symptoms or no symptoms and have fully recovered. A small number of other problems, such as preterm birth, have been reported in babies born to mothers who tested positive for COVID-19. We don’t know if these problems were related to the virus.
Last updated August 31, 2020