Infant mortality refers to the incidence of deaths in infants under 1 year old. Infant mortality is measured by the number of annual deaths of infants less than 1 year per 1,000 live births.
Instances of infant mortality have decreased dramatically in modern times, particularly beginning in the 20th century. In most developed nations, the reduction in deaths took place prior to World War II, whereas in underdeveloped countries, changes appear to have occurred following the war. In both cases, a decrease in mortality was seen initially with respect to older infants. Changes in newborn mortality were seen later. In earlier times, it is estimated that approximately 30 to 40 percent of infants under 1 one year died. Even in poor undeveloped nations, statistics today show that less than a tenth die as infants, whereas in wealthier countries, the number is as low as 1 percent.
Measuring systems include a set of statistics comprising infant, neonatal and postneonatal mortalities. Infant death rate is a slightly different measurement as the ratio of infant deaths to living infants. Neonatal mortality refers to the annual number of deaths of infants under the age of 28 days per 100,000 live births. Those deaths are assumed to occur due to birth complications, congenital anomalies, physiological problems or gestational immaturity. Injuries and other factors related to environment, nutrition and infectious diseases account for postneonatal mortality. This rate is measured according to the mortality rate of infants from 28 days to 1 year. Diseases such as gastroenteritis and pneumonia are common causes in underdeveloped nations. In highly developed nations, these deaths are less likely to occur, given the ability to control infectious diseases and to monitor nutritional needs. There is also the possibility of accidents, assaults or homicides as the cause of infant deaths.
Some reports indicate that there is an increased risk of premature births and, by extension, the risk of mortality in instances of multiple births due to fertility treatments. Critics claim that as the United States does not cover infertility treatments, more patients choose to transfer multiple eggs to reduce costs and to raise the possibility of fertilization. Premature births, not only due to multiple births, totaled approximately 540,000 in the United States in 2009.
Government offices have released guidelines to prevent infant mortality. The U.S. government statistics for the infant mortality rate in 2011 was 6.06 deaths per 1,000 live births.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) supports a range of services designed to prevent infant mortality, focusing on the health of mothers and children. Public health campaigns have been initiated to heighten awareness, as well as programs to facilitate access to prenatal and newborn care. Areas of information featured include prevention of malnutrition, understanding birth defects, premature birth and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Moreover, information is made available to highlight healthy development and growth for infants. Programs and campaigns include Healthy Start, Medicaid and the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).There is also a toll-free prenatal care hotline in English and Spanish. Childhood immunization initiatives have ensured vaccinations are given to young children at the correct age. The result has been a record low rate of deaths from preventable diseases.
Research indicates that infant mortality has declined significantly in the past 30 years. In the United States, statistics have shown a decrease in mortality of infants but that the rate among infants of non-Hispanic black mothers is double that for non-Hispanic whites.
Additional campaigns geared toward preventing infant mortality include the folic acid campaign to prevent birth defects like spina bifida and anencephaly. The "Back to Sleep" campaign has provided guidelines indicating that babies sleeping on their backs are less likely to run the risk of SIDS. HHS also sets up information facilities for women to be tested and treated to prevent transmission of HIV from mother to child. Other initiatives include a campaign to reduce teenage pregnancy. With regard to infant mortality, babies of teenage mothers are more at risk for a low birth weight and an increased risk of infant mortality. Grants have been made available by the government to develop services and systems to facilitate greater care for mothers and infants. In addition, HHS supports medical research in the fight to reduce infant mortality.
In less developed areas, there are moves toward preventive measures, educating mothers prior to the stage of labor. Aside from nutritional advice and directives not to smoke while pregnant, issues regarding housing and mental health are also included. These actions are directed at reducing infant mortality in developed regions, as well as ensuring infant death is cut in deprived areas as well.