When it comes to taking care of women, the United States lags behind the rest of the developed world. We have terrible protections and support services for mothers and babies, which has started a frightening trend. Infant mortality rose last year, and here's what this country needs to do to start to turn those numbers around.
A new report from the Centers for Disease Control shows the rate of infant deaths increased in 2015 to 589.5 per 100,000 live births from 582.1 in 2014. And while the difference between the infant mortality rates between the two years is statistically tiny, it shows the country is headed in the wrong direction.
When you consider the U.S. already has the highest infant mortality rates among 27 other wealthy nations when it comes to infant mortality, according to The Washington Post, there has to be more the country's leadership can do to protect women and babies in America. The Post added that, based on similar numbers from the CDC in 2014, a baby born in America is almost three times more likely to die during the first 12 months of life compared to nations like Finland.
But it's not all infants who are dying at higher rates in the U.S. Just babies born to poor mothers.
According to research from Alice Chen from the University of South California, Emily Oster at the University of Chicago, and Heidi Williams from MIT, the most dangerous time for infants isn't during birth, it's the time after babies leave the hospital when they're exposed to the most risk, according to the Washington Post. If mothers have advantages, their babies are more likely to live, the report found, according to the Post. And the increased rate of infant mortality in the U.S. is "entirely, or almost entirely, to high mortality among less advantaged groups."
Wealthy Americans, according to the statistics, have similar infant mortality rates to countries at the top of the list, like Finland, but these researchers said, according to the Post, "...there is tremendous inequality in the U.S., with lower education groups, unmarried and African-American women having much higher infant mortality rates."
The rate of infant mortality for black women and their babies in America is twice that of white women, according to Mother Jones.
The solutions aren't about making big technical strides; instead, the U.S. just needs to provide simple additional support, including nutrition and health care services, to low-income mothers, in addition to doing more to close the wage gap and access to basic care. There are organizations like Planned Parenthood helping make low-cost family planning services available to more women. You can donate to help their efforts. There are programs like Head Start, which promotes school readiness for low-income kids under 5 years old, which need to be protected and expanded. And of course, the upcoming fight over the GOP's promised repeal of the Affordable Care Act, which currently covers more than 8 million people, 54 percent of which are women, according to statistics complied by Obamacare Facts.
The Trump administration has promised to "repeal and replace" the ACA, or Obamacare as it's called, with what he says will be "something teriffic," according to the Sacramento Bee, which is pretty vague. If the country is serious about driving down infant mortality, women and children need access to essential health care services. It's up to voters to hold Trump and the GOP accountable to policies that reflect that intent.
But besides helping low-income mothers, there's another potential cause for the jump in infant deaths in this country. Susan Devore, the CEO of Premiere healthcare alliance, told PBS in 2013 that a critical part of the issue is the rise in unintentional injury caused by scheduled Cesarean section births.
Unintentional injuries were largely the cause of the increase in rates of infant mortality between 2014 and 2015 according to the CDC report. In 2014, the infant mortality rate, as the result of unintentional injury, was 582.1 deaths per 100,000; in 2015 that number rose to 589.5. And while the jump isn't enormous, Devore says cutting back on scheduled births could go a long way to bringing down the overall number of infant deaths, according to PBS.
Devore told PBS in an interview about how to reduce infant mortality rates in this country:
One of the biggest problems is pre-term birth. That is, folks who end up having their babies prior to 37 weeks or prior to 39 weeks. It is often by choice, and I think part of what we are trying to do is bring attention to, in a scalable, national way, some of the things that can be done to prevent potential harm or injury to mothers and infants. And so, yes, I think it is often for convenience, not for clinical reasons. So we’ve been working very hard to educate and train health systems to implement policies around that and really reduce the number of babies being delivered before 39 weeks.
There is no reason children born in America shouldn't have a better chance at life. It's up to the people of this country to make women and children's health a bigger priority.