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Reducing Infant Mortality in the United States

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What can we do to lower the incidence of infant deaths? Joyce and Robin speak with Dr. Robert Ford, a retired obstetrician/gynecologist (OB/GYN) from West Memphis, Arkansas, now living in Memphis, Tennessee. Dr. Ford shares his insights into this problem, which is highest in the Southern states.

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.

Fortunately, most newborns grow and thrive. However, for every 1,000 babies that are born, six die during their first year. 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.

Infant mortality rate for children in the poorest 20% urban households is about twice as high as that among children in the richest 20% urban households, globally.

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