Infant mortality rate is the comparison of the number of deaths of infants under the age of one year in a given year per 1,000 live births in the same year. This rate is often used as an indicator of the level of health in a country. The United States has an infant mortality rate of 6.1. Among the wealthy nations of the world, the United States lags in comparison.
US states such as Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Ohio, Indiana, West Virginia, Oklahoma and District of Columbia have the highest mortality rates of at least 7 for every 1,000 live births. The state of Mississippi has the highest infant mortality rate at 8.9 deaths for every 1,000 live births. If the state of Mississippi were a country, it would rank somewhere between Botswana and Bahrain.
Contributing to the high number of deaths of American babies below the age of one year is lack of access to universal healthcare, limited access to prenatal care and postnatal care, and a below-par maternal health.
Causes For High Infant Mortality Rates
About two-thirds of infant deaths in the United States occur in the period which lasts from birth until the first 27 days of the baby’s life. This stage is known as the neonatal stage. In coming up with statistics for infant mortality rates, the first nuance comes from the definition which may vary according to country or region. The difference mostly arises in how the counting is conducted. In some countries, a baby born after only 21 weeks gestation and weighing less than a pound is not considered ‘born’ because their survival chance is very limited. However, the premature births are considered a live birth in the United States. The inclusion of premature births has contributed to the inflated numbers of infant mortality by up to 40 percent in the US.
Income Gap Among Mothers
The neonatal mortality rate is strikingly similar in the United States to that of the wealthy nations. However, there is a huge gap when it comes to postnatal mortality when compared to well-faring countries. The reason for this change in trend is attributed to the income gap. Infants born to poor moms have higher odds of dying after just one year compared to those born to wealthier moms. Disadvantaged mothers are not able to access postnatal health care which could considerably improve the survival chances of the baby.
America has one of the best neonatal intensive care units in the world and babies are taken care of exceedingly well. Once sent home, mothers are not able to access the same quality of healthcare. This variation in the quality of postnatal care contributes to infant mortality. The absence of post-natal home nurse visits is also a contributing factor to the gap between the United States and other wealthy countries.
Infertility treatment often leads to the birth of twins or triplets who have lower survival rates compared to singletons. The main cause is perhaps because they are likely to be born prematurely. This contributes the high infant mortality numbers.
Risk factors among mothers such as the use of tobacco, alcohol and other drugs can contribute to high infant mortality. Other maternal causes such as high blood pressure, diabetes, age and other infections lead to high infant mortality. High-stress levels among mothers lead to deteriorating health which affects the unborn baby.
Lack of Better Policies
European countries such as Finland and Austria have implemented nurse visit policies to ensure medical professionals provide much-needed healthcare services to the babies while at home. This has greatly reduced the mortality rates in those countries and the rest of Europe. In the United States, however, home nurse visits are not very common or provided for in the Affordable Care Act. American mothers, therefore, miss the opportunity to get more information and support on how best to raise the baby.
The Way Forward on Reducing High Infant Mortality in the US
While infant mortality rates are dependent on various factors such as age-distribution and population size, rankings by the state do not consider other state-specific population characteristics that may affect the level of mortality. When the number of deaths in a state is small, rankings may be unreliable due to instability in death rates.
There are certain measures that can be taken to reduce the level of infant mortality. The introduction of extensive social programs such as home nurse visits can increase protective factors and reduce risk factors. Regular baby checkups can reduce preventable deaths by SIDS (Sudden Infant Deaths Syndrome) and also alert the mom to possible environmental hazards. Home visits also offer emotional and psychological support to mothers, some who may be facing addictions or coping problems. This promotes the overall health of the mother and their child. Improving the socioeconomic status of mothers has shown a reduction in the number of infant deaths. This extends to the level of education. Highly educated groups have lower infant mortality rates compared to lower education groups. In addition, research indicates that maternity leave helps reduce the number of infant deaths.