The US falls short on reducing infant deaths

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The number of American babies who die in the first month of life ranks worse than 40 other countries, according to new data released from the World Health Organization.

In fact, over the last 20 years, the U.S. dropped from the 28th place to 41st, falling behind countries such as Cuba and South Korea.

Most of the newborn deaths resulted from prematurity, breathing difficulties during or shortly after delivery, and infections such as pneumonia.

The number of American infants who die before their first birthday — six out of every 1,000 – also pales in comparison. Forty-six other countries have a lower infant death rate.

Black American babies fare worse than other groups — over two times more likely than white babies to die.

Birth defects, low birth weight, and maternal complications are mostly to blame, as well as SIDS — sudden infant death syndrome.

SIDS — when an infant dies suddenly without a clear explanation – kills about 2,500 babies die each year. Black infants are two times more likely to die of SIDS.

While experts are unclear as to why certain babies die from SIDS, they agree that putting babies to sleep on firm surfaces, without soft, fluffy bedding, carries the least risk. Babies should also not sleep on their stomachs or in the same bed as mom and dad due to the increased risk.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has stood by these recommendations since 1992.

Yet, a survey of African-American parents in the most recent issue of Pediatrics still showed a preference for soft bedding. Parents expressed concerns for the babies’ comfort, and also felt that pillows and padding from bumper guards protected the babies from injury. These opinions were consistent, regardless of education or socioeconomic status.

In the effort to decrease infant mortality, there is also a recent push to avoid elective deliveries before 39 weeks.

Previously, once a woman reached 37 weeks of pregnancy, it was felt the baby was mature enough to be delivered. However, a study earlier this year showed that allowing the pregnancy to continue for two additional weeks cut the risk of infant death in half.

Of the newborns born at 37 weeks who did not die, a significant number still required stays in the neonatal intensive care unit or a prolonged hospitalization.

However, much is unknown. The March of Dimes advocates the need for more research into the relatively high rates of newborn and infant death. As a result, the organization funds research in this area as well as for the prevention of premature deliveries and birth defects.