Infant Mortality Rate Drops Slightly

Babies Born Just a Few Weeks Too Soon Are Three Times More Likely to Lose the Battle to Survive

White Plains, New York | Monday, May 3, 2010

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Infant mortality rates edged down slightly in 2006, but babies born too soon, and often too small, continue to make up more than a third of infant deaths.

The 2006 infant mortality rate declined to 6.7 out of every 1,000 live births from 6.9 in 2005, according to Infant Mortality Statistics From the 2006 Period Linked Birth Infant Death Data Set released today by the National Center for Health Statistics.

“The three percent decline in the infant mortality rate is encouraging, but more than 28,000 is still too many babies who did not live to celebrate their first birthday,” said Dr. Jennifer L. Howse, president of the March of Dimes. “No parent should ever have to experience the pain of losing a child from prematurity, or from any other cause.”

More than 28,500 babies died in 2006 before they were a year old, and babies who died from preterm birth-related causes accounted for more than 36 percent of infant deaths.

Each year in the United States, 543,000 infants are born too soon. Preterm birth, birth before 37 weeks gestation, is a serious health problem that costs the United States more than $26 billion annually. It is a leading cause of infant death, and babies who survive an early birth often face the risk of lifetime health challenges, including breathing problems, cerebral palsy, mental retardation and others. A recent March of Dimes report found that worldwide 13 million babies are born preterm, and more than one million die each year.

The statistics show that the earlier a baby is born, the greater the risk of death, but it’s important to note that even babies born just a few weeks too soon, born between 34 to 36 weeks gestation, have an infant mortality rate three times as high as babies born full term.

A National Center for Health Statistics report released in November 2009 found that although survival rates for premature infants are similar between the United States and European countries, the overwhelmingly high number of preterm births in the United States drove its infant mortality rate higher. Recent data ranks the United States 28th out of 32 countries for infant mortality.

There are known strategies that can lower the risk of an early birth — such as reducing maternal smoking by supporting smoking cessation programs, treating women with a history of preterm birth with progesterone, avoiding multiples from fertility treatments and reducing unnecessary c-sections and inductions done before 39 weeks gestation.

About March of Dimes

March of Dimes leads the fight for the health of all moms and babies. We support research, lead programs and provide education and advocacy so that every baby can have the best possible start. Building on a successful 80-year legacy of impact and innovation, we empower every mom and every family.

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