U.S. Ranks High in Infant Mortality

11.05.09 Skyrocketing preemie births place U.S. infant death rate in 30th place

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Infant mortality in the United States is worse than in 29 other countries, including most European nations, Canada and Australia, The New York Times reports, citing premature births as the main reason the mortality rate is so high.

A new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report ranks the U.S. 30th in the world in infant mortality, compared with 29th in 2004 and 23rd in 1990. In 1960, the U.S. placed 12th.

However, the U.S. compares favorably with Europe in survival of preemies, according to the CDC research. The problem: There are so many more American infants being born prematurely (before 37 weeks, 1 out of 8 U.S. babies is born too early; in Ireland, 1 in 18 newborns arrive preterm).

"So, once the baby is born too early, we do a good job of saving it. What we have a problem with is preventing the preterm birth in the first place, " a CDC spokeswoman said.

Almost 7 infants die out of every 1,000 born in the U.S., a 36 percent spike since 1984. That's far worse than the lowest rates— between 2.1 and 2.8 babies per 1,000 in Singapore, Sweden, Hong Kong and Japan (which ranked Nos. 1 through 4, respectively).

Why preterm births are more common isn't clear in the new CDC report, but experts point to some likely factors: poor access to prenatal care; maternal obesity and smoking; too-early Cesarean sections; induced labor; and fertility treatments.

The study suggests that cutting down on the number of preterm births would reduce the overall infant mortality rate significantly. Many organizations are working toward educating women on the cause, plus November is Prematurity Awareness Month.

Delivering early is every mom-to-be's fear and, unfortunately, an increasingly common reality. While many grow up to be healthy, premature babies differ from full-term newborns in some ways, from breastfeeding ability to milestones.

But don't despair! Preterm births may be on the rise, but there are many ways to help curb it. Remember, prevention starts early.

Maria Vega is Fit Pregnancy magazine's copy editor.