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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A very important letter for new mamas

Listen, mom-guilt is a dirty liar. Yes, it's your job to fill your little human's needs, but you matter too. Don't forget to take care of yourself. Hang out with friends, take a drive blaring 90's hip hop or shower without interruptions—trust me, you'll be a better person (and mom) because of it.

Dear new mom,

You will shave again someday. Today is not that day.

Set expectations low, my friend, and set your partner's lower—at least where body hair and overall hygiene are concerned.

That conversation could go something like this: “From now on let's not consider shaving a “standard," but more like a gift that happens on birthdays and the first day of summer."

Voila, you are a gift-giving genius. You know what else is a gift? Shaving the inch and a half of skin that is between your skinny jeans and your boots. You're welcome world.

You will not be perfect at parenting.


I have yet to meet a perfect mother, but when I do, she's going to be a tiger who is insanely good at making up songs. (Daniel Tiger's mom, we salute you.)

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Motherly editors’ 7 favorite hacks for organizing their diaper bags

Make frantically fishing around for a diaper a thing of the past!

As any parent knows, the term "diaper bag" only scratches the surface. In reality, this catchall holds so much more: a change of clothes, bottles, snacks, wipes and probably about a dozen more essential items.

Which makes finding the exact item you need, when you need it (read: A diaper when you're in public with a blowout on your hands) kind of tricky.

That's why organization is the name of the game when it comes to outings with your littles. We pooled the Motherly team of editors to learn some favorite hacks for organizing diaper bags. Here are our top tips.

1. Divide and conquer with small bags

Here's a tip we heard more than a few times: Use smaller storage bags to organize your stuff. Not only is this helpful for keeping related items together, but it can also help keep things from floating around in the expanse of the larger diaper bag. These bags don't have to be anything particularly fancy: an unused toiletry bag, pencil case or even plastic baggies will work.

2. Have an emergency changing kit

When you're dealing with a diaper blowout situation, it's not the time to go searching for a pack of wipes. Instead, assemble an emergency changing kit ahead of time by bundling a change of baby clothes, a fresh diaper, plenty of wipes and hand sanitizer in a bag you can quickly grab. We're partial to pop-top wipes that don't dry out or get dirty inside the diaper bag.

3. Simplify bottle prep

Organization isn't just being able to find what you need, but also having what you need. For formula-feeding on the go, keep an extra bottle with the formula you need measured out along with water to mix it up. You never know when your outing will take longer than expected—especially with a baby in the mix!

4. Get resealable snacks

When getting out with toddlers and older kids, snacks are the key to success. Still, it isn't fun to constantly dig crumbs out of the bottom of your diaper bag. Our editors love pouches with resealable caps and snacks that come in their own sealable containers. Travel-sized snacks like freeze-dried fruit crisps or meal-ready pouches can get an unfair reputation for being more expensive, but that isn't the case with the budget-friendly Comforts line.

5. Keep a carabiner on your keychain

You'll think a lot about what your child needs for an outing, but you can't forget this must-have: your keys. Add a carabiner to your keychain so you can hook them onto a loop inside your diaper bag. Trust us when we say it's a much better option than dumping out the bag's contents on your front step to find your house key!

6. Bundle your essentials

If your diaper bag doubles as your purse (and we bet it does) you're going to want easy access to your essentials, too. Dedicate a smaller storage bag of your diaper bag to items like your phone, wallet and lip balm. Then, when you're ready to transfer your items to a real purse, you don't have to look for them individually.

7. Keep wipes in an outer compartment

Baby wipes aren't just for diaper changes: They're also great for cleaning up messy faces, wiping off smudges, touching up your makeup and more. Since you'll be reaching for them time and time again, keep a container of sensitive baby wipes in an easily accessible outer compartment of your bag.

Another great tip? Shop the Comforts line on to find premium baby products for a fraction of competitors' prices. Or, follow @comfortsforbaby for more information!

This article was sponsored by The Kroger Co. Thank you for supporting the brands that supporting Motherly and mamas.

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A few years ago, while my wife's baby bump got bigger and my daddy reading list grew longer, I felt cautiously optimistic that this parenthood thing would, somehow, suddenly click one day. The baby would come, instincts would kick in, and the transition from established couple to a new family would be tiring but not baffling.

Boy was I wrong.

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