The United States saw a notable increase in infant mortality rates last year, breaking a two-decade trend of declining infant deaths. This disturbing shift, as reported by the National Center for Health Statistics, underscores the challenges facing maternal and child health in the country.
Infant and maternal mortality rates are often regarded as markers of a society’s overall well-being. The U.S. lags behind other industrialized nations in these statistics, with Black and Native American mothers experiencing significantly higher mortality rates compared to their white and Hispanic counterparts. Additionally, their infants face a double or greater risk of death.
Despite decades of improvements in public health, the infant mortality rate has been steadily decreasing. However, the recently reported rise presents a concerning anomaly. While the report does not pinpoint the exact cause of this increase, it is suggested that the surge could be linked to a spike in maternal deaths during the pandemic, as maternal mortality rose by 40 percent in 2021 due to COVID-19 and its impact on pregnant women.
The report further reveals an alarming rise in infant mortality among babies born to mothers aged 25 to 29. The causes behind this increase remain unknown. Rates for other age groups remained relatively stable.
Dr. Elizabeth Cherot, CEO of the March of Dimes, expressed surprise and disappointment at these figures, emphasizing the need for a more detailed analysis to uncover the underlying causes. Complications in pregnancy have become more prevalent, and a variety of factors may have contributed to the rise in infant mortality, including shifts in medical protocols, telemedicine usage, and mental health challenges.
The data also showed that male infants experienced the statistically significant increases in mortality rates, even though male survival rates have historically been slightly lower than those of females.
Black infants in the U.S. still have the highest mortality rate, while the mortality rates of white and Native American and Alaska Native babies also saw statistically significant increases. The two leading causes of infant deaths were bacterial sepsis and maternal health complications, which were more common in the reported year.
While this rise is cause for concern, it’s essential to continue monitoring these trends and conduct in-depth research to understand the contributing factors. Infant mortality, a critical indicator of a society’s health and well-being, deserves urgent attention and intervention to reverse this alarming trend.