Where does America fall categorically and percentage-wise when it comes to infant death compared to our European nation counterparts?
This is the question most recently raised in my mind after witnessing two infants that were less than six months old die within a 72-hour period. Both of them had similarities. Both were pre-term. Both were born with complications. Both of them were African American females. Both of them had parents who were married. Both of them lived in the Deep South – South Carolina and Alabama. One lived for several months, never leaving the hospital where she was born. One lived for 26 hours. The doctors had informed the family that this one would not live for a day once she was born. This one that lived for only a day and two hours was my own great-niece. Her name was Charis Faith Jones. My question about infant mortality stems from this up close and personal experience.
Statistics as far back as 2007 show that there has been a rise in infant mortality within the last 11 years, since 1991. According to 2011 statistics by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), infant deaths ranked lower internationally in 2006 (30th) than it did in 1961 (12th).
But get this. The largest percentage of infant deaths in the United States occur among babies that are born early, or preterm births. One article noted that most preterm births are delivered by Caesarian section. By 2007, 36% of all early births resulted in death. That is a 1.4% increase in seven years, since 2000. Between 1991 and 2006, the number of preterm births climbed 36%. Singleton births by Caesarian increased also. There were 47% of babies born before 32 gestational weeks that were delivered by Caesarian section. And preterm births in which labor was induced doubled. Add to this that some statistics show that infant mortality rates are more than twice as high among African American families than Caucasians.
What is this information saying? While the United States does not rank in the top percentage for infant mortality, it does rank higher than many European countries in preterm births.
So my next question is, why is there such a high percentage of babies born early in the United States? In my search for truthful answers, I had to wade through articles that had both racial and political slants. I am less interested in what political party or ethnic group’s socioeconomic status is blamed for the state of American’s infant birth and death rates as I am with the reasons why babies come early and die before they are 12 months old.
According to WebMd, 50,000 pregnancies result in preterm births each year. Reasons for preterm births include obesity which increases chances of gestational diabetes and high blood pressure, uninsured mothers, multiple births, births due to fertility drugs, infections, and yes, elective Caesarians that may have been performed too early.
There is no way of knowing at the beginning of a pregnancy whether or not a mother will carry her baby to full term. However, it should be the desire of every mother to do carry the baby for at least 38 weeks, as this enhances the chances for a normal, healthy birth. Personally, I never carried a baby to the prospective due date. But they all survived. That was over 23 years ago. Then it was almost unheard up in my part of the country to hear of infant death more than every once in a while. It was a time to stop, reflect and grieve then.
It still is.