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U.S. infant mortality rate falls to historic low; Minnesota’s already low rate is unchanged

The drop in infant mortality was broad. It occurred across most racial and ethnic groups, as well as in 33 states and the District of Columbia.

Minnesota’s efforts are already reflected in its relatively low infant mortality rate, which was 4.9 infant deaths per 1,000 live births in 2014, according to MDH data.
REUTERS/Rick Wilking

The infant mortality rate in the United States has fallen to an all-time low, according to a report issued Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

Nationwide, the rate declined 15 percent between 2005 and 2014, dropping from 6.86 to 5.82 deaths per 1,000 lives births.

Yet, despite this positive trend, the United States still has one of the highest rates of infant mortality (the death of a baby before his or her first birthday) among developed countries.

Still, there’s plenty of good news in this report. To begin with, the drop in infant mortality was broad. It occurred across most racial and ethnic groups, as well as in 33 states and the District of Columbia.

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“I think there was a public health push in the past decade to figure out ways to lower this rate, and it has made an impact,” T.J. Matthews, a demographer at the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics and an author of the report, told CNN. “We know that there have been a lot of efforts across the country in cities and states where they’re trying to figure out ways where they can lower the infant mortality rate.”

Those efforts include not scheduling the birth of babies before 39 weeks and ending medically unnecessary induced labor. It also includes educating parents and other caregivers about safe-sleep practices for their babies to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), as well as accidental suffocation and strangulation. 

The expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act has also contributed to healthier pregnancies, births and babies. Medicaid currently pays for nearly half of all births in the United States. In addition to helping pregnant women and their babies get access to medical care, Medicaid also enables women to receive effective birth control. Planned pregnancies are associated with fewer complications for both mother and baby.

Minnesota’s rate unchanged

Minnesota was not among the states in the study that saw a drop in its infant mortality rate. It was one of the 17 states whose rates remained essentially unchanged.

That finding is disappointing, said Susan Castellano, director of maternal and child health at the Minnesota Department of Health, in a phone interview with MinnPost. But, as she explained, many of the states that saw dramatic improvements in their infant mortality rates over the past decade are in the South, where initiatives that Minnesota began years ago — such as making sure women with at-risk pregnancies are triaged to hospitals specially equipped to handle both them and their infants — have only recently begun to be implemented.

“We are also healthier to begin with,” said Castellano. “A lot of the southern states have made a real dent recently in their smoking rates with pregnant women, for example. But we had already done that.”

Minnesota’s efforts are already reflected in its relatively low infant mortality rate, which was 4.9 deaths per 1,000 lives births in 2014, according to MDH data.

It’s the social determinants of health — things like income disparities and the conditions in which people live and work — that need to be tackled next to bring Minnesota’s infant mortality rates down further, said Castellano.

Specific findings

Here are some additional national findings from the CDC report:

  • The only racial and ethnic groups that did not experience a drop in their infant mortality rates between 2005 and 2014 were American Indians and Alaska Natives, whose rates remained essentially unchanged. The largest drops were among infants whose mothers were Asian or Pacific Islander (21 percent) or non-Hispanic black (20 percent). Still, a racial gap persists. In 2014, the infant mortality rate for blacks was 10.93 deaths per 1,000 births — more than twice as high as for whites (4.89 deaths per 1,000 births) or Hispanics (5.01 deaths per 1,000 births).
  • The infant mortality rate dropped by at least 16 percent in 11 states and the District of Columbia. Three states — Connecticut, South Carolina and Colorado — and D.C. had declines of more than 20 percent.
  • The rates fell for four of the five leading causes of infant death. The most dramatic drop — 29 percent — was for deaths from SIDS, but decreases were also observed for deaths from unintentional injuries and congenital malformations (both down 11 percent), as well as for deaths from premature birth/low birth weight (down 8 percent) and maternal complications (down 7 percent).

FMI: You can read the CDC report on the agency’s website.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated Minnesota’s infant death rate.