Unfortunately, about 24,000 infants died in the United States in 2011. The loss of a baby remains a sad reality for many families and takes a serious toll on the health and well-being of families, as well as the nation.
The death of a baby before his or her first birthday is called infant mortality. The infant mortality rate is an estimate of the number of infant deaths for every 1,000 live births. This rate is often used as an indicator to measure the health and well-being of a nation, because factors affecting the health of entire populations can also impact the mortality rate of infants. There are obvious differences in infant mortality by age, race, and ethnicity; for instance, the mortality rate for non-Hispanic black infants is more than twice that of non-Hispanic white infants.
What are the Causes?
Fortunately, most newborns grow and thrive. However, for every 1,000 babies that are born, six die during their first year.1 Most of these babies die because they are—
- Born with a serious birth defect.
- Born too small and too early (i.e., preterm birth; birth before 37 weeks gestation).
- Victims of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
- Affected by maternal complications of pregnancy.
- Victims of injuries (e.g., suffocation).
These top five leading causes of infant mortality together account for 58% of all infant deaths in the United States in 2011.1
What Can You Do?
Pregnancy and childbirth have a huge effect on the health of women and their families. Pregnancy-related health outcomes are influenced by factors such as race, ethnicity, age, and income, but most importantly—a woman's health.
Good preconception health care means living a safe, healthy lifestyle and managing any current health conditions before getting pregnant. By taking action on health issues before pregnancy, many future problems for the mother and baby can be prevented.
It is important for all women of reproductive age to adopt healthy behaviors such as—
- Taking folic acid.
- Maintaining a healthy diet and weight.
- Being physically active regularly.
- Quitting tobacco use.
- Not drinking excessive amounts of alcohol and using “street” drugs.
- Talking to your health care provider about screening and proper management of chronic diseases.
- Talking with your health care provider about taking any medications.
- Visiting your health care provider at the recommended scheduled time periods for your age and discuss if or when you are considering becoming pregnant.
- Using effective contraception correctly and consistently if you are sexually active, but wish to delay or avoid pregnancy.
- Preventing injuries and considering the safety of your home and family (e.g., wear seat belt, take CPR, install and test smoke alarms).
A healthy pregnancy begins before conception and continues with appropriate prenatal care and addressing problems if they arise.
Some women may be advised to give birth at special hospitals, especially if they may be at risk of delivering a very small or very sick baby. These hospitals have staff and equipment needed to provide high-level newborn life support and advanced medical services. Many states and localities have organized to provide this care under a system of “regionalization”—where this special hospital serves a geographic region. These are known as “Level III” hospitals.
Health care providers should use the prenatal period as a time to help parents prepare for potential problems that may require the use of Level III regional hospitals. This means providers should inform parents of the location of the nearest Level III hospital before labor and delivery begins. This will help parents and other family members be prepared, especially if the hospital is a great distance from the family’s home. Prospective parents should ask their providers about why Level III services may be important to the health of the woman and her baby.
If you or someone you know has experienced the loss of a baby, the following organizations may offer support:
We are committed to improving birth outcomes. Public health agencies including CDC/ATSDR, health care providers, and communities of all ethnic groups must work together to further reduce the infant mortality rate in the United States. This joint approach can help address the social, behavioral, and health risk factors that affect birth outcomes. Learn more about CDC’s research, programs, and efforts to better understand and reduce infant mortality. Read More >>
1. Source: National Center for Health Statistics. National Vital Statistics Reports (NVSR). Deaths: Final Data for 2011 [PDF -3.03MB].