A report released Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the infant mortality rate in the United States steadily fell by 12 percent between 2005 and 2011. This promising pattern is believed to be affected by the decrease in premature births, researchers say.
The drop comes after a period where the infant mortality rate remained unchanged for a few years between 2000 and 2005. While that is not necessarily a bad thing, it was surprising that it had stalled since it had declined for most of the 20th century. But over the period from ’05 to ’11, the rate began to drop steadily again. Now, the death rate for babies less than one year old is 6.05 for every 1,000 births. That average is a large decrease from 6.87 back in 2000. Several demographics experienced a much higher drop, such as mothers in the south as well as African American mothers. For African Americans, that dropped 16 percent. The states that featured the highest drops were Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina and South Carolina, with all four states featuring drops of more than 20 percent.
The biggest decrease, however, occurred in the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C. Thanks to expanded programs which include home visits for poor expecting mothers, the infant mortality rate in D.C. fell from 14.05 for every 1,000 births in 2005 to just 7.86 in 2010.
Marian MacDorman, a senior statistician and author of the CDC report, believes the drop has to do with less premature births around the United States. Premature births peaked in 2006 in America, with 12.8 percent of all babies born prematurely, or before 37 weeks of gestation. It has dropped every year since then. It makes sense, since more than 66 percent of all infant deaths in 2009, the most recent numbers available from the CDC, were in premature babies.
One of reasons why babies are being born prematurely at a lesser rate now may simply be due to education. More and more hospitals are not allowing women to schedule deliveries for babies that are before the 39th week of gestation. Dr. MacDorman believes the campaigns started by the March of Dimes in 2011 and a similar one by the Department of Health and Human Services which educates mothers on why waiting is the best idea are two reasons for this movement. She said even though they’ve been around for only a few years, they are beginning to lead to a change in culture for American mothers.