The increasing numbers of premature and other low birth-weight infants may be the leading cause of the high infant mortality and neonatal mortality rates in the United States, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
The US has a high rate of infant mortality—higher than any other similarly wealthy country, but until now researchers were unclear as to why. The new study, published today in the journal Pediatrics, sheds light on these puzzling numbers, which remain steady despite advances in technology and improved care.
Paradoxically, it turns out that it is the very technology that allows underweight and pre-term babies to survive that has lead to the high steady infant mortlity rate in this country. Infant mortality rate is defined as the number of infants who die before their first birthday.
“Doctors today are able to keep smaller babies alive due to improved obstetrical and neonatal care,” said UAB Edwin M. Dixon Professor of Pediatrics Wally A. Carlo, M.D., the study’s senior author.
“Because of this, more and more small babies are being reported as live births, and a large proportion does survive thanks to medical advances. However, because so many more small babies are being reported as live births, and a number do not survive past their first birthday, the rates of infant and neonatal mortality are not going down as much as they have in the past.”
Dr. Carlo warned that preterm births should not always be considered an obstetric success.
“Preterm births in the United States have increased because women are being induced before 37 weeks gestation without a clear medically-necessary indication,” he said.
The study also showed the United States is not as behind other countries as the numbers make it seem: Overall, normal birth weight and full-term infants are surviving past their first birthday in increasing numbers in the U.S.
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