This is part one in a two-part series on infant deaths. For part two, click HERE.
America’s infant mortality rate increased for the first time in decades last year, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report, with 3% more babies dying before their first birthday in 2022 than in 2021.
The overall increase in infant deaths reflected a 3% increase in babies who lived less than 28 days (neonatal) and a 4% increase in babies who lived less than one year (post-neonatal).
Graphic courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Some premature babies also fared worse in 2022 than in 2021, with a 3% increase in deaths among those born before 37-weeks gestation, and a 4% increase in babies born before 34-weeks. There was no statistically significant change in the deaths of babies born between 34- and 36-weeks gestation or before 28-weeks.
While the report doesn’t say why infant deaths increased in the last two years, the data seems to correspond with marked declines in maternal health and natal care availability starting as far back as 2019.
Mothers with pre-existing chronic health conditions — including obesity, eating disorders, sexually transmitted diseases and infections, diabetes, and high blood pressure — are more likely to deliver babies before their bodies are fully formed, increasing the baby’s risk of dying before their first birthday.
The CDC found four states had statistically significant increases in 2022 infant deaths — Georgia (13%), Missouri (16%), Iowa (30%) and Texas (8%). These same states had high numbers of women with health problems in 2020, according to March of Dimes 2022 report on maternity care deserts.
Almost all of Georgia’s counties (90%), and more than half of counties in Missouri (69%) and Texas (66%) had both high rates of premature births and high numbers of women with at with at least one chronic health problem in 2020, compared to only 41% of counties in Nevada — the only state whose infant death rate significantly decreased between 2021 and 2022.
Pre-existing maternal health conditions are more dangerous for mothers living in maternity care deserts — counties with no maternity wards, birthing centers, or obstetric providers. Mothers and babies are at higher risk for complications without education and doctors to cure and control chronic conditions. Lack of equipment, training and sterile facilities makes threats to babies lives even greater.
While Iowa had a lower percentage of counties with maternal health and premature birth problems than other states with higher infant deaths in 2022, it had the highest percentage of 2020 births (11%) occurring in maternity care deserts, compared to only 4% of Nevada births.
Data courtesy of March of Dimes
All available evidence shows maternal health is worse and maternity care deserts are bigger now than in 2020, when March of Dimes’ data was collected. Physical health problems, compounded by skyrocketing mental health problems, typically worsened during the pandemic — especially among young people. Maternity wards and birthing centers are closing — leading to expanding maternity care deserts — because Americans aren’t having enough babies to justify keeping them open.
Assuming this research is correct, it’s reasonable to conclude increased infant mortality rates in 2022 are connected to problems with maternal health and lack of maternity care.
This tentative explanation would also account for some of the demographic information noted in the CDC’s report.
Mothers between 25- and 29-years-old, for instance, were the only age group more likely to experience infant deaths (4%) in 2021 than 2022, which makes sense if younger people fared worse in the pandemic than older people. Further, white and Native American women were the only two racial groups more likely to experience infant deaths in the last two years — 4% and 21%, respectively; they were also the two groups most likely to live in maternity care deserts in 2020.
While we don’t know for sure why infant deaths are rising, we know finding ways to incentivize states, counties, and communities to support pregnant mothers is crucial for the physical and mental wellbeing of children! That’s why pregnancy resource centers (PRCs), Safe Haven Boxes, and other pro-life initiatives are so vital to our society — and deserve your support!
Click here for part two, where we tackle mainstream media interpretations of the CDC’s data.
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