Public Health

Preterm Births Boost U.S. Infant Mortality Rate

The bad news about the U.S. health system just keeps coming.

A premature baby lies in an ICU. i i

hide captionA premature baby, born at 28 weeks, lies in the neonatal intensive care unit of a New York hospital. The CDC says the large number of premature births is one factor behind the high infant mortality rate in the U.S.

Mario Tama/Getty Images
A premature baby lies in an ICU.

A premature baby, born at 28 weeks, lies in the neonatal intensive care unit of a New York hospital. The CDC says the large number of premature births is one factor behind the high infant mortality rate in the U.S.

Mario Tama/Getty Images

Infant mortality in the U.S. is worse than in 29 other countries, including practically all of Europe, Canada and Australia, says a report just out from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

If there's any good news, it's that the situation in the U.S. hasn't gotten even worse. Based on 2005 data, the U.S. ranked 30th in the world in infant mortality, compared with 29th in 2004 and 23rd in 1990. Back in the good old days of 1960, the nation ranked 12th.

Almost 7 infants die for every 1,000 born in America, a 36 percent rise since 1984. That's far worse than the lowest rates—between 2.1 and 2.8 babies per 1,000, reported by Singapore, Sweden, Hong Kong and Japan.

So why does a prosperous nation like ours come up so short? The high number of American preterm births— those before 37 weeks—is the biggest reason.

The U.S. actually compares favorably with Europe in survival of preemies, according to the CDC research. The problem is, there are so many more infants being born too early in the U.S. One in every eight babies born in America is born too early.

Why preterm births are more common here isn't so clear, but experts point to a few likely factors. Preterm births are more likely in women with other health issues, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity.

Older mothers and young teen mothers also face higher risks.The U.S. has higher rates of women in these groups getting pregnant, co-author of the report, Marian MacDorman from the National Center for Health Statistics, tells NPR's Brenda Wilson. And in the U.S., minority women also face much higher rates of preterm births than white women.

Another possible culprit is the type of medical care women are receiving. Many American doctors induce an early labor or schedule a cesarean section before that 37 week mark. In 2006, labor was induced in nearly 16 percent of preterm births and 36 percent were C-section deliveries.

The study suggests that cutting down on the number of preterm births would reduce the overall infant mortality rate substantially.

To hear more, listen to Brenda Wilson's piece on Wednesday's All Things Considered.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: