What is infant mortality?
Infant mortality is a statistic that looks at the number of babies who die each year before they reach their first birthday. It is usually calculated as the number of babies who die out of every 1,000 babies who are born alive in a year. Infant mortality can be divided into neonatal mortality and post-neonatal mortality. When newborn babies die less than 28 days after they are born, it is called neonatal mortality. When babies die, who are older than 27 days but younger that one year, it is called post-neonatal mortality. Neonatal and post-neonatal mortality often have different causes, so it can be helpful to look at them one by one.
A significant cause of infant mortality is prematurity. In Arkansas as elsewhere, maternal and newborn intensive care for very premature deliveries and births has reduced mortality for those most at risk. However, access to perinatal intensive care services in NICUs (Neonatal Intensive Care Units) is inconsistent and this state lacks formal public policy to address the inconsistencies. Regionalization of NICUs will increase the likelihood that a mother and infant receive risk-appropriate medical care in order to reduce maternal and infant morbidity and mortality, and to minimize cost. With this in mind a NICU Regionalization Committee was created by the Arkansas Department of Health to examine the issue and make recommendations. Their report along with recommendations for Levels of Care may be found here:
Why is infant mortality a public health problem?
The death of a baby is a tragedy for any family. It is also a tragedy for the people in an area, because a baby’s death means that the good the child could have brought to the community during his or her life has been lost.
High infant mortality also means that there are public health problems in the community that need to be addressed. So, it is important to see what problems cause a community to have a high infant mortality rate so that people and organizations can work together to solve those problems and protect the health of the next generation.
How big is the problem of infant mortality?
In 2009, 290 babies died in Arkansas before their first birthday. The infant mortality rate for that year was 7.3 deaths per 1,000 live births. The U.S. infant mortality rate for 2009 was 6.4. Arkansas’s neonatal mortality rate was 4.1 per 1,000 live births, and the post-neonatal mortality rate was 3.2 per 1,000 live births. Arkansas’s neonatal mortality rate was close to the U.S. neonatal mortality rate, which was 4.2. But, the post-neonatal mortality rate for Arkansas was much higher than the U.S. post-neonatal mortality rate, which was 2.2.
What can we do to reduce infant mortality in Arkansas?
There are several people from different agencies and organizations that meet together every month to share new information, plan new strategies and coordinate their activities for decreasing infant mortality in Arkansas. This group is called the Infant Mortality Action Group. Its meetings are hosted by Arkansas Children’s Hospital as part of the Natural Wonders Partnership Council, which is a group of people from organizations working together to improve child health in our state. The Infant Mortality Action Group has developed an Infant Mortality Action Plan to help focus the activities of the group regarding the actions we can take to reduce infant mortality in Arkansas.
Here is a list of their recommendations.
- Improve our understanding of the causes of infant death in Arkansas.
- Prevent unplanned pregnancies.
- Reduce teen birth rate.
- Prevent low birth-weight and birth defects.
- Promote healthy behaviors among women of child-bearing age, so they will be healthy before they become pregnant.
- Improve health management and parenting skills of parents.
- Expand home visiting and other parent education programs.
- Prevent injuries.
- Increase healthy sleep habits.
- Increase access to quality health care during and after pregnancy.
- Reduce the rate of late pre-term deliveries.
- Improve quality of neonatal hospital care.
- Assure access to high quality health care for babies with special needs.