A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released Tuesday reveals that the U.S. infant mortality rate is down by 15 percent. The report looked at available infant mortality rate data from 2005 through 2014, and the decline is certainly welcome news for healthcare providers, public health officials, and American parents.
The CDC report all showed the trends in infant mortality rates by state as well, with some states showing significant infant mortality rates declines of 20 percent or more, including Colorado, Connecticut, South Carolina, and Vermont, while Washington D.C. saw a decline of more than 50 percent during that same time span. More good news: No states saw any statistical significant increases in infant mortality rates. Other key report findings included the massive decline of SIDS-related deaths, down 29 percent from 2005 to 2014.
March of Dimes Chief Medical Officer Dr. Paul Jarris told CNN that, while the report is largely "good news," there is still more work that needs to be done. The CDC report found that racial disparities in infant mortality rates are still an ongoing public health issue. "... The inequities between non-Hispanic blacks and American Indians and the Caucasian population have persisted," Jarris said.
According to the CDC, there are five main causes of infant mortality; these causes made up over half of all infant deaths in 2014 at 57 percent. These causes include birth defects, preterm birth with low birth weight, maternal pregnancy complications, SIDS, and injuries. Even with the CDC's findings in Tuesday's report, it did not get into the specifics of why U.S. infant mortality rates are down overall, but other national data can offer some clues.
Preterm Births Were Down Until 2014 — But Are On The Rise Again
According to Child Trends, a nonprofit research organization, preterm births have been on the decline steadily since 2006, after peaking in 2005. Considering that preterm births are one of the main causes of infant mortality, this data supports the CDC's findings that infant mortality is down overall. However, a 2016 CDC report in November revealed that preterm births rose in 2015, for the first time in eight years.
Prenatal Care Rates Are Up
One factor that can help prevent preterm births is regular prenatal care. Child Trends found that the number of mothers receiving late or no prenatal care has also been on the decline since as far back as the 1970s — meaning that more expectant mothers are getting prenatal care and likely getting appropriate preventative or intervening care for their babies before they're born, boosting health outcomes once born. (Note: The sudden 2007 jump in the data is due to a 2003 revision in how birth certificate data was reported.)
Another key factor to enable more moms to get appropriate prenatal care? The Affordable Care Act. In 2015, the Department of Health and Human Services reported that nearly 50 million women benefiting from preventive services coverage mandated by the ACA, including everything from contraception to prevent unintended pregnancies — which have poorer health outcomes — to maternity care.
Major Changes In Safe Sleeping Recommendations
In 2011, the American Academy of Pediatrics updated its safe sleeping guidelines for babies for the first time since 1992, when it first recommended that babies should be placed on their backs to sleep. These updated guidelines included the encouragement of breastfeeding and vaccinations, while telling parents to keep items out of the crib, such as blankets, pillows, and crib bumpers. As CDC demographer and report author T.J. Matthews told CNN, "I think there was a public health push in the past decade to figure out ways to lower this rate, and it has made an impact." Late last year, the AAP recently updated its safe sleeping guidelines to include room sharing, while discouraging the practice of co-sleeping.
While the news overall is quite positive, there is definitely still more work to be done to improve infant mortality rates in minority groups — but the CDC report shows that, for the most part, progress is being made overall.