For the first time in two decades, infant mortality is on the rise in the United States.
The nation already struggles with a higher infant mortality rate than many other developed countries. And, like other countries, the United States has recently charted higher rates of low birthweight and preterm births.
But new data from the CDC clearly illustrate the factors driving infant deaths – and give powerful clues about how to prevent them.
Infant Mortality Data
Between 2021 and 2022, the United States saw a 3% climb in its infant mortality rate. That raises infant fatalities to 5.6 per 1,000 live births.
In a nation that welcomes 3.7 million babies each year, this means that more than 18,000 newborn lives were lost last year.
Babies of color face a higher risk of death.
A Black infant born in America is about twice as likely as a white infant to die in the first year of life. Native American infants and babies born before 37 weeks of gestation experienced the starkest change in mortality over the past few years.
Reversing the Trend
The CDC cites two primary causes of infant mortality: maternal complications and bacterial meningitis. But the “cause of death” alone paints an incomplete picture. The factors driving changes in infant survival, and especially the disparities in maternal and infant health, are complex and multifaceted.
Consider that Black, Alaskan Native, Native Hawaiian and Native American women are far more likely than white women to face fetal death, preterm births, stillbirths and low-birthweight babies. These same groups have higher rates of pregnancies for which they receive no prenatal care and have higher incidences of maternal mortality.
The trend suggests that lack of access to adequate prenatal care and interventions contributes to the rise in infant deaths. The COVID-19 pandemic, which reduced hospital visits and led some clinics to close, also deepened health care inequalities.
Better access to care could not only save infants but also reduce pregnancy-related maternal death.
Reducing infant mortality, therefore, will require targeted policy interventions. Policymakers, health care professionals and communities can unite around policy initiatives that bolster maternal and prenatal health services and education.
All expectant mothers, regardless of their demographic background, should have access to timely and comprehensive prenatal care. By prioritizing maternal health care and addressing disparities in access, policymakers, advocates and providers can work toward a healthier, more equitable future for mothers and babies alike.