Infant mortality down in U.S., but this surprising change could make babies even safer

Print Friendly and PDF

Over the last decade, the infant mortality rate in the United States has dropped considerably. Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that the number of newborns who died before age 1 dropped 15% between 2005 and 2014. But new research shows that the odds of a newborn dying in their first year of life, including full-time babies, are far higher in the United States than many other developed countries.


Luckily there are steps parents, doctors and lawmakers can take to ensure our little ones will live long, healthy and happy lives.

According to a new study published in PLOS Medicine, the U.S. infant mortality rate for babies born full-term were 50% to 200% higher than other affluent nations including Austria, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland. In particular, researchers studied more than 10 million full-term infants born in the United States between 2010 and 2012 and discovered that, out of every 5,000 full-term births, 11 newborns died before 1 year old. More than 7,000 babies born between 37 and 42 weeks gestation die in the United States each year, the study showed.

FEATURED VIDEO

So what’s behind the high infant mortality rate? There are two main causes, according to study co-author Neha Bairoliya of the Harvard Center for Population and Development study: Congenital malformations, which accounted for 31% of newborn deaths during the study, and high risk of sudden unexpected deaths in infancy (SUID), which represented 43% of cases.

“While we do not have data on actual sleeping arrangements from our study, other data sources suggest that a substantial number of babies continue to sleep on their tummy,” Bairoliya tells Reuters. “We also found a shockingly large number of babies dying from suffocation, which suggests that parents either use covers that are not safe, or let children sleep in their own beds.”

(While many parents find co-sleeping works best for them, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “infants should sleep in the same bedroom as their parents – but on a separate surface, such as a crib or bassinet, and never on a couch, armchair or soft surface”.)

Though not involved in the study, Michael Gradisar, a psychology researcher at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia, says its findings illuminate key differences between the United States and Europe when it comes to maternal and infant health. Particularly, Gradisar tells Reuters, different approaches to infant sleep and parental leave between the two continents may influence survival rates among newborns.

“Once a baby is born in the U.S., the odds of that baby dying in its first year from poor sleeping arrangements (sleeping position, co-sleeping) is higher than the best European countries, especially in Scandinavia,” he says. “There are also clear links between paid parental leave, which is higher in Scandinavian countries, and lower infant mortality risk in the first year of life.”

So how can we lower the infant mortality rate in the United States?


Enact a federal paid parental leave law

There are clear links between paid parental leave and a lower infant mortality rate. Studies show paid leave has significant health benefits for parents and their babies that ensure survival: Reduced postpartum depression rates, encourage breastfeeding, and increase the number of infant checkups and vaccinations.

But the United States is the only country, out of 41 developed nations, that doesn’t have a federal paid leave law of any kind. On the other hand, Sweden, one of the nations with a low infant mortality rate, comparatively, offers new parents 480 days of paid leave at 80% of their normal salary.

Increase access to affordable prenatal and neonatal care

Although medical advances have made prenatal and neonatal care more accessible, there is still a large number of women and infants who are not receiving these services. Many mothers, particularly mothers of color, face significant barriers to accessing adequate healthcare for themselves and their children: Lack of insurance, lack of affordable care, unreliable transportation, and financial insecurity, among others. And research shows that babies of mothers who receive late to no prenatal care are five times more likely to die.

Improve training around risk factors

It’s not only the accessibility of care that affects infant mortality rates—it’s also the quality of that care. Research shows that the leading causes of neonatal death include infections, complications during pregnancy and childbirth and congenital abnormalities. But all of these conditions are preventable or can be diagnosed and treated early with better healthcare.

That’s where improved training comes in: A ProPublica investigation published last year found that many postpartum nurses had poor knowledge of the warning signs associated with pregnancy- and childbirth-related complications. By improving training and education, nurses will be better able to educate parents.

Have better support systems for new parents

Parenthood may be rewarding, but it’s also incredibly stressful. There are so many challenges that new mothers face while trying to handle their new responsibilities. Research shows that, without adequate support and services available to parents, the risk for infant mortality is heightened, particularly among underserved populations. Support for new parents could be anything from creating free or affordable activity groups to offering to act as a night babysitter for a few weeks to a few months.

The infant mortality rate is high in the United States compared to other developed countries, but it doesn’t have to be. There are solutions that, when implemented, can have a tremendous influence on a baby’s survival.

You might also like:

The very best of Motherly — delivered when you need it most.
Subscribe for inspiration, empowering articles and expert tips to rock your best #momlife.

When it comes to holiday gifts, we know what you really want, mama. A full night's sleep. Privacy in the bathroom. The opportunity to eat your dinner while it's still hot. Time to wash—and dry!—your hair. A complete wardrobe refresh.


While we can't help with everything on your list (we're still trying to figure out how to get some extra zzz's ourselves), here are 14 gift ideas that'll make you look, if not feel, like a whole new woman. Even when you're sleep deprived.

Gap Cable-Knit Turtleneck Sweater

When winter hits, one of our go-to outfits will be this tunic-length sweater and a pair of leggings. Warm and everyday-friendly, we can get behind that.

$69.95

Gap Cigarette Jeans

These high-waisted straight-leg jeans have secret smoothing panels to hide any lumps and bumps (because really, we've all got 'em).

$79.95

Tiny Tags Gold Skinny Bar Necklace

Whether engraved with a child's name or date of birth, this personalized necklace will become your go-to piece of everyday jewelry.

$135.00

Gap Brushed Pointelle Crew

This wear-with-anything soft pink sweater with delicate eyelet details can be dressed up for work or dressed down for weekend time with the family. Versatility for the win!

$79.95

Gap Flannel Pajama Set

For mamas who sleep warm, this PJ set offers the best of both worlds: cozy flannel and comfy shorts. Plus, it comes with a coordinating eye mask for a blissed-out slumber.

$69.95

Spafinder Gift Card

You can't give the gift of relaxation, per say, but you can give a gift certificate for a massage or spa service, and that's close enough!

$50.00

Gap Stripe Long Sleeve Crewneck

This featherweight long-sleeve tee is the perfect layering piece under hoodies, cardigans, and blazers.

$29.95

Gap Chenille Smartphone Gloves

Gone are the days of removing toasty gloves before accessing our touchscreen devices—thank goodness!

$9.95

Ember Temperature Control Smart Mug

Make multiple trips to the microwave a thing of the past with a app-controlled smart mug that'll keep your coffee or tea at the exact temperature you prefer for up to an hour.

$79.95

Gap Flannel Shirt

Our new favorite flannel boasts an easy-to-wear drapey fit and a flattering curved shirttail hem.

$59.95

Gap Sherpa-Lined Denim Jacket

Stay warm while looking cool in this iconic jean jacket, featuring teddy bear-soft fleece lining and a trendy oversized fit.

$98.00

Gap Crazy Stripe Scarf

Practical and stylish, this cozy scarf adds a pop of color—well, colors—to any winter ensemble.

$39.95

Nixplay Seed Frame

This digital picture frame is perfect for mamas who stay up late scrolling through their phone's photo album to glimpse their kiddos being adorable. By sending them to this smart frame to view throughout the day, you can get a few extra minutes of sleep at night!

$165.00

Gap Crewneck Sweater

Busy mamas will appreciate that this supersoft, super versatile Merino wool sweater is machine washable.

$59.95

This article was sponsored by GAP. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and Mamas.

Our Partners

Most of the time, being inclusive isn't that hard. Actually, it's so easy, even 4-year-olds can grasp it. That's the message body acceptance activist and Instagram user Milly Smith wanted to share when she posted a photo of her son, Eli, explaining a very simple thing: "Some men have periods too. If I can get it, so can you."

Theoretically, it is easy to get the fact that non-binary people and some trans men menstruate. Usually, body-affirming hormone treatments stop them from menstruating, but that's not always the case. Sometimes their period will stop for years but make a surprise return for a variety of reasons, such as a medication change. Bodies like to keep us guessing like that.

FEATURED VIDEO

And yet, many of us, particularly cisgender people, fall back on our habitual ways of speaking about periods without even thinking about it. We have a hard enough time discussing menses as it is, so this may be one of the last vestiges of non-inclusive talk. When a young kid asks why mama is bleeding, the knee-jerk reaction could be to say, "It's just something that women do," hoping not to have to explain the finer points of sex and reproduction for a few more years.

But Smith is here to remind us not to do the knee-jerk thing.

"Eli has been told about periods since he saw blood on my pants a couple of years ago," Smith wrote on Instagram. "I didn't use the language of women have periods because it's not entirely inclusive. I told him that SOME women, SOME non binary people and SOME men have periods. It was easy for him to accept as he hadn't had to unlearn the engrained [sic] societal norm but if a 4-year-old can grasp it I'm sure most of us can have a crack at unlearning transphobic/misinformed norms and open our minds... ya think?"

Some corporations have begun to do their part to unlearn those gender stereotypes. According to PopSugar, Always announced in October that it was removing the Venus "female" symbol from its packaging. While the website for Thinx period underwear is still Shethinx.com, it has attempted to appeal to trans and nonbinary customers as well, referring to "people with periods." Last year, British period subscription service Pink Parcel launched a campaign that included trans man Kenny Jones as one of its spokespeople.

Sadly, a couple of ads and an Instagram featuring a cute kid have not quite solved the problem of transphobia in this world. Smith has turned off the comments on her post, probably because of negative backlash from the shining citizens of the internet. That's an upsetting reminder of how far we have to go.

But at least we can still enjoy Smith's concluding words, "It's not insulting to women, it's not discrediting women," she said of this change of wording. "It's opening up the community to make it a safe space for those who don't identify as women but still have periods."

The world isn't always black and white and it's time we start recognizing the beauty in accepting the grey areas.

News

It's hard to believe, but it's been a whole year since Gabrielle Union announced the birth of her baby girl. Since then, we've all had the pleasure of watching adorable baby Kaavia James grow, as well as seeing Union and husband Dwyane Wade raise her. This year hasn't always been easy for Union, however, as she shared in a beautifully honest post on her daughter's birthday.

"Scared to hold you," Union wrote in her post on Thursday afternoon. "Scared to burp you. Scared to reveal I have no clue what I'm doing. Scared to go to work. Scared to stay home. Scared when you sleep. Scared when you wake up. Scared I'm not living up to some impossible standard of motherhood. Scared I'd lose myself. Scared I'd be exposed as a failure, as less than, not as good as, not as comfortable as, not as... anything."

FEATURED VIDEO


Yes, even gorgeous, successful Gabrielle Union experiences the same doubts about motherhood as so many of us. Because it really is hard.

"Now I understand why sometimes you'll see moms at the airport or in Target just in tears," she told People earlier this year. "You try to do what you can in the hours that you can. I may not be hitting it out of the park at work, at home, with her or with my husband, but that's okay."

For this birthday post Union shared a slideshow video of Kaavia's first year, set to Bill Withers' "Lovely Day." She had also posted the lyrics of that song with her birth announcement post last year. We've seen most of those images before, but they're somehow more moving in montage form.

Union went on to write about how her daughter helped her gain confidence in herself, too.

"But there you were, everyday, looking up at me, like 'gurl, you got this!' " Union wrote. "When I let go of my fears of judgment and just did my best and recognized that my best would and could change from day to day and life would magically go on... Man, I finally allowed myself to just enjoy you @kaaviajames and relax into the peace of imperfection."

We certainly couldn't have described that first year of parenting better ourselves.

News

Whether or not you're trying to come up with a name for a baby on the way, you can't deny that baby name conversations are always fascinating. Why are all of your friends named Emily and Sarah? How many boys named Miles are in your kid's school right now? And of course, which baby name will be on every mama's lips next year?

Nameberry may know, as it has released its predictions for 2020's top baby names. The site analyzed its traffic to calculate which names had the biggest increases in interest this year.

"These include newly minted names, rediscovered antiques, plus names imported from around the world," Nameberry cofounder Pamela Redmond writes.

FEATURED VIDEO

If you are in fact pondering names for your own child, this could either be a good place to start or a list of names to avoid, depending on how you feel about being one of many or the outlier in a group.

Here are Nameberry's predictions for the top baby names in 2020.

Girls' names

1. Adah

2. Reese

3. Mika

4. Paisley

5. Amina

6. Teagan

7. Nova

8. Aura

9. Pearl

10. Billie

Boys' names

1. Austin

2. Alva

3. Acacius

4. Tate

5. Diego

6. Easton

7. Lucius

8. Cash

9. Ash

10. Luca

There's quite a mix of rationale for choosing each of these names. Some, like Reese, Mika, and Billie, are likely inspired by the famous women with those names (Witherspoon, Brzezinski, and Eilish, respectively). Some are continuations of current trends. The biblical name Adah extends the trend for "Ad" girl names, and Lucius is likely to follow the popularity of Lucy, Lucia, and Lucian, Nameberry says.

We're surprised by a couple of the names on this list. Alva is the number two boys' name, for instance. "Every American schoolchild knows this as the middle name of the great inventor Thomas Edison, whose surname has also become popular," Redmond writes. "With Alma and Alba now stylish for girls, Alva could gain visibility for boys."

They're also going out on a limb with the girls' number eight, Aura, which was used only 120 times in 2018. The rationale here is that it's similar to current fave Aria/Arya. We'd also add that all things witchy and supernatural are trendy again.

We won't know if this list is right until the Social Security list for 2020 comes out in May 2021, but as soon as the data comes in we'll let you know which names really topped 2020. Only time will tell if Adah and Austin are the next Liam and Emma.

News

Shawn Johnson East and her husband Andrew recently welcomed their little girl into the world. It's a dream come true for the couple who had previously suffered a pregnancy loss, but Shawn says she didn't get the birth of her dreams.

"22 hours of labor to end in a c section," she wrote on Instagram. "I went in with such a stubborn mindset of thinking the only way I could bring our baby into the world was naturally. No meds no intervention. At 14 hours when I chose to get an epidural I felt guilty. At 22 hours when we were told I had to get a c section I felt like I had failed."

FEATURED VIDEO

We get how hard it is when your birth plan doesn't go as planned. What Shawn feels is actually pretty common, say mental health experts. The combination of unexpected surgery and feelings of loss of power and guilt when a birth doesn't go as plan, can be traumatic.

An emergency C-section is not a personal failure. It's a medical emergency and it's common.

"The emergency nature of C-sections leads [some mothers] to feel out of control, as well as fear that there will be harm to the baby or themselves," Dr. Sarah Allen, a Chicago psychologist and director of the Postpartum Depression Alliance of Illinois, told the Chicago Tribune.

In Shawn's case, everything went well, and that changed how she was feeling. "But after holding our sweet girl in my arms and being told everything went well and she had made it to us safely I could have cared less [about the C-section]."

Shawn no longer feels guilty and we are so glad she doesn't.

It is important for pregnant people to know that there is no wrong way to give birth, and according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, C-sections are very common, representing about 32% of all births in the United States.

Shawn did not fail, and neither did you, mama. C-section mamas are strong + brave.

News
Motherly provides information of a general nature and is designed for educational purposes only. This site does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.Your use of the site indicates your agreement to be bound by our  Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. Information on our advertising guidelines can be found here.