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

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.

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.

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Sometimes it's easy to overlook this amazing work we are doing, my love. On the surface, our lives couldn't be less extraordinary. We work our jobs, we care for our children—we embody a simple life. (Though, don't get me wrong, we love every second of it!)

But especially when I think about the work you do for our family, work that largely goes unsung, I'm reminded that, really, it's my job to make sure you know how much it's appreciated.

We both came into this marriage so young, so untested, and so blissfully unaware of the hardships that would come our way through the years. As we grew up together, we weathered our own storms before finally realizing we were ready to expand from a party of two to a party of three.

You were more nervous than I was, but you stayed strong for me, making me feel stronger and shouldering my own moments of uncertainty like the hero I needed.

When our daughter was born, pink and sweet and impossibly small, I never felt safer than when I saw her in your arms. From her first breath, you were there, ready to give her the world if she asked. Your dedication to her, to me, and to this family we continue to build never wavered from that moment forward. From the first moments, you were an incredible parent.

But life has a way of distracting us—blinding us to the everyday heroism even when it's right under our noses. As Edna Mode sagely reminded us in The Incredibles 2, "Done properly, parenting is a heroic act", and I see your heroism.

So thank you, my love…you are incredible to me.

Thank you for stretching to pick up my slack, even when you’re just as tired as I am.

Somedays you walk through the door from work, and you were slammed all day and your commute took an hour longer than it should have, and you're immediately bombarded by a needy toddler and an (almost) equally needy wife. But when I watch you shake off the day in an instant and throw your arms around us both, ready to help, I don't think words can truly express how grateful I am.

Thank you for being strong in my moments of weakness, even if no one else ever knows about them.

I play it so strong all the time, but you know the truth. You know the moments I'm about to break or the days when I truly can't take on another thing. And how do you respond? You make it okay. You let me crumble, you let me whine, you let me cry when I need to. You make it a safe space where I don't have to be #supermom, if even just for a moment. You are my safe space, and I love you for that.

Thank you for the thousands of practical, “little” things you do every week.

From taking out the garbage to changing the lightbulbs to actually remembering to replace the toilet paper roll (something even I forget to do!), those little things don't go unnoticed—even if I often forget to thank you in the moment.

While I may take on the bulk of housework as the stay-at-home parent, you do your part in little ways I never forget. Those little things? To me, they are incredible feats, trust me.

Thank you for being the incredible father I always knew you would be.

I wouldn't have married you if I didn't think "Dad" was a mantle you could take on successfully, but it still makes my heart burst every time I see you excelling at this difficult role. You make our daughter feel supported, safe, and loved every single day, and I'm so, so happy that you are the person I chose to do this life with. Your instincts and commitment to our children amaze me every day.

So for all the million things you do—and for all the millions of times I forget to say it—I thank you. For all the million things you have yet to do for us—I thank you.

You're our hero, and you're pretty incredible.

This article is sponsored by Disney/Pixar's The Incredibles 2 on Digital October 23 and Blu-ray Nov 6. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

After one pregnancy, it's easy to be under the impression that you'll know what to expect the next time around. Only, for expectant mama Carrie Underwood, her current pregnancy has been "harder" than she anticipated—and many mamas of multiple kids can relate.

"It's definitely different than the first time," Underwood tells Entertainment Tonight. "When they say every pregnancy is different, it really is."

For Underwood, who recently revealed she experienced three miscarriages before this pregnancy, the new symptoms this time around have taken her off-guard. "I feel like this one is just a little harder on my body for some reason. But it's been really good."

Part of that, of course, may be influenced by the fact she's also spending her days keeping up with her 3-year-old son, Isaiah. Just as Chrissy Teigen also expressed, when you're expecting a baby with an older child in the house, it's simply harder to carve out downtime for yourself. That can make symptoms such as exhaustion and nausea feel that much more intense. (Pro friend tip: Offer to entertain the older child so mama can sneak an afternoon nap once in a while.

)As challenging as that can be, Underwood made the point that expecting a baby with an older sibling around can have perks—even if they still have to sell Isaiah on the idea. "He says he won't change any poopy diapers," Underwood says. "I understand, maybe I can change his mind."

Meanwhile, the family is keeping plenty busy with awards show appearances (and wins) and preparing for a move, which has put Underwood's buying habits on hold. "I haven't bought anything yet, we still have some of the stuff, cribs and stuff from my son, but we'll figure it out," she says. "It'd be pointless to buy it and then move it."

The family has been making plans, though, like deciding on a name for the baby that they are keeping private for now. And after a difficult road to expand the Fisher-Underwood family, she says they are really trying to enjoy the moment by keeping a positive outlook despite the less than positive symptoms.

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Jessica Alba's Honest Company has joined forces with Rosie O'Neill of the candy company Sugarfina to create some adorable candy-themed limited edition diaper prints, bibs, and gift sets that include a little something special for mom. [Update: And they're now available outside of the gift sets and subscriptions!]

Seriously, Sugarfina and Honest are a match made in heaven. The Honest Company is known for its cheerful prints and Sugarfina is known for its gourmet gummies, and the combo of the two is super adorable. Alba tested the prints on her baby boy, Hayes.

"It's so cute when he just crawls around with the little gummy bear diaper and the matching bib. It's really sweet. That's what's great about our diapers—they just look so cute on your baby, even when your baby's in nothing else but just their little diaper," she tells Motherly.

There are two prints: Boo Bear (the gummy bears Hayes wears) and Sweet Thing (modeled after Sugarfina's popular baby butterfly gummies). The prints are available in diaper cakes and bibs separately on Honest.com or packaged alongside a cube of matching candy on in the gift sets available through Sugarfina.

As Motherly previously noted, Alba feels it's very important for her company to work with fellow women entrepreneurs, which is how this partnership with O'Neil and Sugarfina was born. Alba's been a fan of the candy company since it launched, and often adds a little Sugarfina to gifts she gives.

"I was just thinking that, wouldn't it be cute to do a collaboration with them and have that ultimate baby shower experience? So that you have the diaper cake, and you could even do a themed baby shower around our diaper cakes." Alba tells Motherly.

Alba and O'Neil both wanted to create some surprise and delight for mom by recognizing that when people are giving gifts to a new mom, the presents are often actually for the baby. With these gift sets, mom gets to enjoy a grown-up treat while also enjoying the incredibly cute baby gear.

"Obviously the diapers are for the babies to wear, but there's something to be said for making sure that the product that we're going to use for our babies are relevant, and enjoyable for us too, and they bring us joy," says O'Neill. "We wanted to make it so the box was really beautiful, and you felt proud to give it as a gift and also there's something for the mom."

Alba agrees, adding that pairing some Sugarfina candy for mom with the matching prints for baby also makes for a great gift not only before the baby is born, but after, when mama probably hasn't had much time to treat herself.

"I know, after having three kids, how important it is for you also to be considered and pampered a bit. So yeah, it is definitely a really sweet gifting moment when you can show up, whether you're meeting the baby for the first time, and you have the diaper cake, and you have a little sweet something for Mom. And if she has multiple kids, it's always nice to give something that another sibling can enjoy as well."

Discount code for Motherly readers 

When we first told you about this launch back on October 2 these limited edition prints were exclusive to the Honest diaper bundle subscribers and the diaper cakes (meaning you couldn't yet buy the candy print diapers outside of the the mini cake, the regular diaper cake and the gift sets available through Sugarfina).

Now though, you can get the limited edition Honest x Sugarfina diapers even if you're not a bundle subscriber (or don't need a whole diaper cake) and Honest has offered Motherly readers a 20% off discount code!

CODE: HonestXSugarfina20

TERMS AND CONDITIONS: Eligible for Honest Sugarfina diaper shop purchases only on honest.com. Eligible on order subtotals up to $500 maximum. Limit 1 promo code per person/household. Offer expires at 11:59 p.m. (PST) on 10/31/2018. Promo Code not valid on Bundles or Trials. Code must be entered into "Promo Code" section at Checkout. Discount applied before taxes, shipping or surcharges. Cannot be applied to previous purchases, Gift Card purchases, Gift Bundles or Add-On items. Cannot be combined with any other promotion or redeemed for cash, unless required by law. Certain charges for return shipping may apply. Note, Promo Code will not apply if there is a Trial in your cart. Terms subject to change at any time.

[Update, October 18, 2018: This post was originally published October 2, 2018. It has been updated to reflect the new availability of the diapers outside the bundles and gift sets, and with the discount code.]

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Hamburgers are a favorite food for kids (and mamas, too) and a bag of fast-food burgers is something many parents reach for when the days get busy and cooking dinner isn't in the cards.

But a new report by Consumer Reports suggests that while quick-service restaurants have been doing a pretty good job of getting antibiotics out of chicken dishes, antibiotics are still finding their way into most beef-based burgers kids love so much, and this could make antibiotics less effective when our kids need them.

Giving healthy cattle the same antibiotics that we need to treat illnesses in humans is "a major contributor to antibiotic resistance," Consumer Reports notes. It's totally possible for beef producers to raise beef without antibiotics, but because the antibiotics are used to combat the effects of crowded feedlots and non-grass diets that are pretty standard in the industry, it is a challenge.

Two fast-food burger chains have managed to find producers who are up for that challenge though, and are able to provide the restaurants with antibiotic-free beef.

Where to grab an antibiotic-free burger

Shake Shack and BurgerFi both got Consumer Reports' highest scorecard rating. The chains earned their A ratings because their sourcing policies mean 100% of the beef served in those restaurants is raised without antibiotics.

In a statement to Motherly, Jeffrey Amoscato, Vice President of Supply Chain and Menu Innovation, says Shake Shack has always been committed to making sure the ingredients it sources come from suppliers who don't use antibiotics.

"Our beef, chicken and pork are all 100% all-natural—no added hormones or antibiotics ever, vegetarian fed, humanely raised and source-verified. It's something that's very important to us so we're thrilled to be recognized for our efforts," Amoscato tells Motherly.

It's not easy for chains to find those kinds of suppliers though, BurgerFi CEO Corey Winograd points out in a statement to Motherly. BurgerFi only uses beef with "no steroids, antibiotics, growth hormones, chemicals or additives" and "only about 1% of the beef produced in the United States meets the strict BurgerFi standards of quality."

In terms of scale, BurgerFi is a pretty small player in the quick-service world, with over 100 locations. McDonalds has more than 10 times that many locations in the state of California alone.

The big burger chains scored poorly

With almost 14,000 restaurants sprinkled across America, a significant number of quick-service burgers consumed by American kids come from McDonald's, which received an F rating from Consumer Reports for its use of beef treated with antibiotics.

And McDonalds wasn't alone in this. Most of the big drive-through chains we pass by every day got an F rating. Wendy's stood out for its D- because it has committed to "sourcing a small percentage of beef from producers who minimize (but don't eliminate) the use of medically important antibiotics in their cattle," Consumer Reports notes.

Motherly reached out to McDonald's and Wendy's, as well as Whataburger, A&W, Carl's Jr., Burger King, Five Guys, Jack in the Box and other restaurant chains but has not heard back as of this writing (we will update this story if we do).

Change is needed

Of course, it would be hard for a chain the size of McDonald's to source antibiotic-free beef, but experts suggest that if the big chains tried, consumers would be willing to pay more for those burgers. Plus, if a major player asked suppliers to go antibiotic-free, it would change the industry. It can and should be done, Lena Brook, M.E.S., interim director for food and agriculture at the Natural Resources Defense Council told Consumer Reports.

"The fact is, Shake Shack and BurgerFi have managed to eliminate antibiotic use entirely in the beef they purchase," Brook says. "Imagine the impact if McDonald's were to do the same."

Non-burger fast food

While there was a lot of bad news in the burger category, mamas who need a quick dinner for the family (without antibiotics) don't have to avoid fast food chains altogether if that's what they want to eat.

Chick-fil-A, Chipotle, and Panera Bread all got an A from Consumer Reports. Most of the meat and poultry ingredients at Panera and Chipotle are raised without antibiotics and Chick-fil-A is taking steps to ensure its suppliers do not use antibiotics by the end of 2019.

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You don't have to tell a mama just how irresistibly cute her baby is—we get it. There is just something about that feathery hair, those teeny fingers and their precious outfits that make babies completely magnetic, even to strangers. The problem is that strangers can bring along some strange germs, which is no small concern this time of year.

Now, some parents are going on the offensive against people prone to ohh-ing and aww-ing in dangerously close proximity to babies without getting a parents' permission. With some brilliant (and creative) signs that can be affixed to strollers or car seatsand even a onesie that spells out "Please, don't touch me,"it's easier for parents to send the message that their baby should not be touched.

With yet another cold and flu season upon us, keeping babies healthy is top of mind for just about every mama—especially those of us with the tiniest babies. Last year, as we were going into one of the worst flu seasons on record, I welcomed my second child and quickly had to learn how to speak up to the people in grocery store lines who would try to shake my baby's hand or touch her cheeks.

Harsh as it may sound, if someone was offended when I (kindly) asked them not to touch my baby, that was a worthwhile tradeoff for keeping my infant healthy. I just wish I had one of these signs to do the hard work for me!

As Tracy Lapointe from the Etsy shop Little Love Canada says, her pediatrician approved and recommended these signs for use during a baby's first six months of life while their immune systems are strengthening.

"Just one well meant cheek pinch or hand rub can transmit harmful germs to an infant," Lapointe says. "This tag will politely let others know that you would rather not have germs spread to your child via physical contact."

Considering most people mean well, these cute and creative signs are an easy way to give everyone a refresher on best practices around babies.

[Update, October 18, 2018: Added onesie to slideshow.]

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