Over 23,000 infants died in the United States in 2014. The loss of a baby 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 the number of infant deaths that occur 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 significant differences in infant mortality by race and ethnicity; for instance, the mortality rate for black infants is more than twice that of white infants.
What Are the Causes?
Most newborns grow and thrive. However, for every 1,000 babies that are born, almost six die during their first year. Most of these babies die as a result of
- Birth defects
- Preterm birth (birth before 37 weeks gestation) and low birth weight
- Maternal complications of pregnancy
- Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
- Injuries (e.g., suffocation).
The top five leading causes of infant mortality together account for over half (57%) of all infant deaths that happened in the United States in 2014.
What Can Be Done?
Pregnancy outcomes are influenced by a woman’s health and differ by factors such as race, ethnicity, age, location, health care access, education, and income.
Preconception health focuses on actions women can take before and between pregnancies to increase their chances of having a healthy baby, including thinking about their goals for having or not having children and how to achieve those goals, addressing health issues with their health care provider before getting pregnant, and adopting a healthy lifestyle.
Important steps women can take to improve their preconception health include—
- Take 400 micrograms of folic acid.
- Achieving and 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, including depression.
- Talking with their health care provider about taking any medications.
- Visiting their health care provider at the recommended scheduled time periods for important exams, screenings, and vaccinations and discussing if or when they are considering becoming pregnant.
- Using effective contraception correctly and consistently if they are sexually active, but are not planning to become pregnant.
- Getting help for intimate partner violence.
- Learning about their family history and how this may affect their risks.
Health care providers and women can work together before and during pregnancy to address problems if they arise and improve women’s chances for healthy outcomes.
Some women may be advised to give birth at special hospitals, especially if they are at risk of delivering a very small or very sick baby. These hospitals have staff and equipment needed to provide advanced newborn life support and medical services. Many states and localities have organized to provide this care under a system of “regionalization”—where this special hospital can serve a geographic region. These are known as “Level III” hospitals. Prospective parents should ask their providers about why Level III services may be important to the health of the woman and her baby and how they can prepare, if they have to deliver there.
The following organizations offer support for people who have lost a baby:
CDC is committed to improving birth outcomes. This requires public health agencies working together with health care providers, communities, and partners to reduce infant mortality in the United States. This joint approach can help address the social, behavioral, and health risk factors that contribute to infant mortality and affect birth outcomes. Learn more about CDC’s research, programs, and efforts to better understand and reduce infant mortality. Read More >>
- Page last reviewed: September 27, 2016
- Page last updated: September 28, 2016
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