Infant Deaths - Age range: zero (0) to five (5).
The death of a baby before his or her first birthday is called infant mortality. The infant mortality rate is the number of infant deaths that occur for every 1,000 live births. This rate is often used as an indicator to measure the health and well-being of a nation, because factors affecting the health of entire populations can also impact the mortality rate of infants. There are significant differences in infant mortality by race and ethnicity; for instance, the mortality rate for black infants is more than twice that of white infants.
Over 23,000 infants died in the United States in 2014. The loss of a baby takes a serious toll on the health and well-being of families, as well as the nation. Most newborns grow and thrive. However, for every 1,000 babies that are born, almost six die during their first year.
The leading causes of infant mortality have changed over time. Unpasteurized milk was the leading cause of infant mortality late in the 19th century. Pasteurization of milk cut infant mortality by around ¾.
In the US the major causes are:
- 1. Birth defects
- 2. Preterm birth (birth before 37 weeks gestation) and low birth weight
- 3. Maternal complications of pregnancy
- 4. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
- 5. Injuries / accidents (e.g., suffocation).
The top five leading causes of infant mortality together account for over half (57%) of all infant deaths that happened in the United States in 2014.
Causes of Infant Mortality Worldwide -- Globally, the top five causes of infant death in 2010 (the most recent year for which data were available) were the following:
- 1. Neonatal encephalopathy (pronounced en-sef-uh-LOP-uh-thee), or problems with brain function after birth. Neonatal encephalopathy usually results from birth trauma or a lack of oxygen to the baby during birth.
- 2. Infections, especially blood infections
- 3. Complications of preterm birth
- 4. Lower respiratory infections (such as flu and pneumonia)
- 5. Diarrheal diseases
Contributing factors in infant morality:
- Environmental and social barriers prevent access to basic medical resources and thus contribute to an increasing infant mortality rate; 99% of infant deaths occur in developing countries, and 86% of these deaths are due to infections, premature births, complications during delivery, and perinatal asphyxia and birth injuries. Greatest percentage reduction of infant mortality occurs in countries that already have low rates of infant mortality. Common causes are preventable with low-cost measures. In the United States, a primary determinant of infant mortality risk is infant birth weight with lower birth weights increasing the risk of infant mortality. The determinants of low birth weight include socio-economic, psychological, behavioral and environmental factors.
- Causes of infant mortality that are related to medical conditions include: low birth weight, sudden infant death syndrome, malnutrition and infectious diseases, including neglected tropical diseases.
- Low birth weight makes up 60–80% of the infant mortality rate in developing countries. Infant mortality due to low birth weight is usually a direct cause stemming from other medical complications such as preterm birth, poor maternal nutritional status, lack of prenatal care, maternal sickness during pregnancy, and an unhygienic home environments. Along with birth weight, period of gestation makes up the two most important predictors of an infant's chances of survival and their overall health. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, "in the past two decades, the infant mortality rate (deaths under one year of age per thousand live births) in the United States has declined sharply." Low birth weights from African American mothers remain twice as high as that of white women.
- Thousands of infant deaths per year are classified as Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). According to the Mayo Clinic, SIDS is the unexplained death, usually during sleep, of a seemingly healthy baby less than a year old. SIDS is sometimes known as crib death because the infants often die in their cribs.
- Although the direct cause of SIDS remains unknown, many doctors believe that there are several factors that put babies at an increased risk of SIDS, including: babies sleeping on their stomachs, exposure to cigarette smoke in the womb or after birth, sleeping in bed with parents, premature birth, being a twin or triplet, being born to a teen mother, and also living in poverty settings. It may be associated with abnormalities in the portion of an infant's brain that controls breathing and arousal from sleep.
- Although the cause is unknown and currently cannot be explained, doctors have come to the conclusion that SIDS is most likely to occur between 2 and 4 months and most deaths occur in the winter time.
- Recommended precautions include ensuring that infants sleep on their backs, controlling the temperature of the bedroom, employing a crib without toys or excess bedding, and breastfeeding.
- In 2015, there were about 3,700 sudden unexpected infant deaths in the United States. Sudden unexpected infant death (SUID) is the death of an infant less than 1 year of age that occurs suddenly and unexpectedly, and whose cause of death is not immediately obvious before investigation. Most SUIDs are reported as one of three types. SIDS, Unknown cause, Accidental suffocation and strangulation in bed.
- In 2015, there were about 1,600 deaths due to SIDS, 1,200 deaths due to unknown causes, and about 900 deaths due to accidental suffocation and strangulation in bed. (CDC - SIDS, Data & Statistics)
- See also:
- Malnutrition frequently accompanies diseases, and is a primary factor contributing to the complications of both diarrhea and pneumonia, although the causal links and mechanisms remain unclear. Factors other than nutrition also influence the incidence of diarrhea, including socioeconomic status, disruption of traditional lifestyles, access to clean water and sanitation facilities, age and breastfeeding status.
- Babies born in low to middle income countries in sub-Saharan Africa and southern Asia are at the highest risk of neonatal death.
- Bacterial infections of the bloodstream, lungs, and the brain's covering (meningitis) are responsible for 25% of neonatal deaths. Newborns can acquire infections during birth from bacteria that are present in their mother's reproductive tract.
- Seven out of ten childhood deaths are due to infectious diseases: acute respiratory infection, diarrhea, measles, and malaria. Acute respiratory infection such as pneumonia, bronchitis, and bronchiolitis account for 30% of childhood deaths; 95% of pneumonia cases occur in the developing world. Diarrhea is the second-largest cause of childhood mortality in the world, while malaria causes 11% of childhood deaths. Measles is the fifth-largest cause of childhood mortality.
- In the 1800’s Teething was found on many death certificates.
- Teething used to be considered (wrongly) a cause of death, as many children died in the first years of life, at the same time as teething occurs. The tendency in the past to attribute serious disease to teething was so prevalent that in 1842 teething was the registered cause of death in 4.8% of all infants who died in London under the age of 1 year and 7.3% of those between the ages of 1 to 3 years according to the Registrar General's report.
- One of the earliest physicians to write about the hazards of teething was none other than Hippocrates himself. In the 4th century BC, the “Father of Western Medicine,” whose oath (albeit, in a heavily-modified form) remains part of a physician’s indoctrination today, noted that “teething children suffer from itching of the gums, fever, convulsions, diarrhoea, especially when they cut their eye teeth.” This theory persisted and permeated the field of pediatrics throughout much of modern history; until relatively recently, nobody bothered to challenge it.
- For hundreds of years, medical professionals believed that teething caused the deaths of children. When Lucy Jefferson, President Thomas Jefferson's sixth child, died at age in 1784 at age 2 1/2, a letter from the doctor said she "fell a Martyr to the Complicated evils of teething, Worms and Hooping Cough."
- A book written by Jean Baumes, published in French in 1783 and translated into English in 1841 (by T. Bond), about 160 pages, was devoted to the dangers of teething, diseases attributed to teething and remedies for them.
- See also: Bushwhacking Genealogy: Kalamazoo and Beyond - Rethinking “Teething” Deaths, by Sonja Hunter, 26 Mar 2013 (Has a very interesting history and info about this “cause of death"!!!)
- From 2005 to 2014, the infant mortality rate in the US dropped 15%, from 6.86 infant deaths per 1,000 live births to 5.82. Sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS, declined by 29%, and there were drops in infant mortality rates across most racial groups.
- In the U.S., the stillbirth rate is 3 per 1,000 births, putting it 22nd among 186 countries. What's more, that rate has barely budged in 15 years, declining just 0.4 percent. In sheer numbers, that means there were 11,260 stillbirths last year (2015) in the U.S., if you use the World Health Organization's definition: fetal death after 28 weeks of pregnancy.
For Further Reading:
- CDC - Infant Mortality
- Wikipedia - Infant Mortality
- Wikipedia - List of countries by Infant Mortality Rate
- NIH - What causes infant mortality?
- CNN - US Infant Mortality Rates down, by Robert Jimison, CNN, 21 Mar 2017
- Money Watch - What’s behind the high rate of infant deaths in the U.S.
- Western Journal of Medicine - Teething as a cause of death. A historical review
- Wikipedia - Teething
- The Washington Post - Cutting Teeth, Part 1: The Fascinating History of Teething
- CNN - No, your baby’s fever was not caused by teething
- Deseret News - S.L. DOCTOR EXAMINES THE MYSTERY OF PIONEER INFANTS'
TEETHING' DEATHS, by Robert Mims, Published 22 Dec 1991
- Random Bits of Fascination - Dangerous, Even Deadly: Teething in Jane Austen’s World, by Maria Grace
- Harry Gibbons and C. Kent Hebdon, Teething as a Cause of Death, A Historical Review, Western Journal of Medicine 155 (December 1991): 658-659.
- Shots, Health News from NPR - US Lags Behind Other Countries in Reducing Stillbirths
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