Just in time for Prematurity Awareness Month, the CDC released a new NCHS Data Brief that ranks the U.S. 30th in the world in infant mortality rate. At 6.8 infant deaths per 1,000 live births (5.8 when excluding births less than 22 weeks of gestation), the U.S. falls behind most European countries, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, and Israel.
What’s the reason for our poor performance in this critical indicator of national health? It’s our “very high percentage of preterm births.”
Since 1984, the percentage of preterm births (infants born before 37 weeks of gestation) in the U.S. has risen 36%. Lowering that percentage appears to be the key to bringing the U.S. infant mortality rate in line with the rest of the developed world.
The Data Brief goes on to show just how dramatic lowering the preterm birth rate in the U.S. could be:
“If the United States had Sweden’s distribution of births by gestational age, the U.S. infant mortality rate (excluding births less than 22 weeks of gestation) would go from 5.8 to 3.9 infant deaths per 1,000 live births—a decline of 33%.”Sweden and Norway have the lowest infant mortality rates in Europe. Here’s an interesting fact that was not included in the Data Brief: In stark contrast to the U.S., Sweden and Norway (along with most of the developed world) use midwives as their primary birth care providers.