America’s infant mortality rate has risen for the first time in more than two decades, with significant increases in Southern and Midwestern states.
According to preliminary figures from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), infant deaths nationwide rose from 19,928 in 2021 to 20,538 in 2022, an increase of three percent.
Overall, the overall infant mortality rate also increased by three percent during this period, from 5.44 infant deaths per 1,000 births to 5.6 infant deaths per 1,000 births – the first year-over-year increase in the rate since 2001-2002.
The infant mortality rate rose the most in babies between 28 days and one year of age – it rose by four percent in 2022 compared to 2021. For babies younger than 28 days, the infant mortality rate increased by three percent year-on-year.
Among the leading causes of death, congenital malformations – birth defects that develop in the uterus during pregnancy – remained the leading cause of death from 2021 to 2022.
While health experts are still speculating about the surge, some say the lack of access to and quality of maternal care, the fallout from Covid-19 and the associated strain on the health care system, and the overturn of Roe v. Wade, which repealed protections for mothers Abortion.
A study found that infant mortality from birth defects increased 22 percent in Texas after the state passed a ban on abortion after a fetal heartbeat was detected, usually for about six weeks, forcing women to carry unviable pregnancies.
Preliminary data shows infant deaths rose for the first time in more than two decades (stock image)
Pediatricians described the numbers as “shockingly high,” adding that each child death was “one death too many.” But statisticians said one year’s data could be a “strange outlier” and they would need to analyze next year’s data to see if there was a trend that could indicate a major health crisis in America.
Among other causes of death, sepsis, a life-threatening reaction to an infection in the body, saw the largest increase, up 14 percent, followed by respiratory problems, up 11 percent, and maternal complications, up 9 percent.
Dr. Sandy Chung, the president of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), said CNN: “We live in a country with significant resources, so the child mortality rate and increase is shockingly high.”
“As pediatricians who help children grow into healthy adults, every child death is one too many.”
“The child mortality rate in this country is unacceptable.”
Danielle Ely, health statistician at NCHS, said although the increase appeared small, it was the first statistically significant increase since 2001 and 2002.
She added that researchers weren’t sure whether this was a statistical blip or the start of a worrying trend.
Official figures show that infant mortality rates – which measure how many infants die before their first birthday – have been trending downward in the U.S. since at least the 1990s.
Initially it fell by about three percent per year, but over the last decade the rate of decline has slowed to less than one percent. From 2020 to 2021, the rate remained unchanged at 5.4 infant deaths per 1,000 births.
According to the latest data, there were 20,500 infant deaths in 2022 – 610 more than the year before.
But Georgia saw 116 more infant deaths, while Texas had 251 more.
A total of 31 states saw an increase in their infant mortality rates, but only four saw a statistically significant increase: Georgia (up 13 percent), Iowa (up 30 percent), Missouri (up 16 percent) and Texas (up eight percent).
Mortality rates for three of the top 10 causes of infant death – maternal complications, respiratory distress and sepsis – increased.
They remained stable in congenital malformations – such as heart defects or spiuna bifida – which are the most common causes of death in infants.
Dr. Eric Eichenwald, a neonatologist in Philadelphia, called the new data “disturbing” and said it could be related to a rise in RSV and flu infections.
“That could potentially explain some of it,” said Dr. Eichenwald, who also chairs the AAP committee that writes guidelines on medical care for newborns.
The graph above shows the child mortality rate by ethnic group in 2021 (blue) and 2022 (green).
The above shows the infant mortality rate by neonatal stage, within the first 28 days of life, and by neonatal stage, from 28 days to one year of life
There have also previously been suggestions that abortion restrictions could be the reason for the increase.
For Texas, the state passed a law in September 2021 that bans abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected – which typically occurs around six weeks – and forces women to carry unviable pregnancies to term.
Then, from 2021 to 2022, the state’s infant mortality rate increased eight percent, with 2,228 deaths recorded.
Dr. Erika Werner, chair of obstetrics at Tufts Medical Center, previously said, “We all knew that the infant mortality rate would rise because many of these abortions resulted from pregnancies that did not produce healthy, normal children.”
“This is exactly what we were all worried about.”
The U.S. has higher infant and maternal mortality rates than many other wealthy countries – including Canada, Germany, Australia and Japan