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Many people were shocked when a 2006 report detailed that the US infant mortality rate ranked second highest in the world, among developed countries. Further, statistics regarding this rate showed disturbing patterns. The figure was much higher in the US among minorities, and was often connected not only to deaths for infants, but also health risks to mothers. Since the report, there have been a number of theories as to why the US infant mortality rate is so high, but access to health care, education, and information about pregnancy and birth control are likely contributors.
At the top of the list is inequitable access to health care, especially among those who are very poor and among teens who have children. Good medical advice and monitoring of a pregnancy is an important contributing factor to babies born at an appropriate birth weight, born full-term, and born healthy. There are poor people in all industrialized nations, but the US does not have any kind of nationalize health insurance plan that would help ensure that all women have access to the care they need. Countries with government health plans tended to have the lowest infant mortality rates.
Women who were of middle class or higher, and who had at least a high school diploma, were much more likely to have healthy babies. On the whole, the population most at risk for suffering the loss of a child is African-Americans, who are almost two times more likely to have a child either born dead or die within the first 24 hours after birth. While the average infant mortality rate in the US is 5 deaths per 1,000 births, for African Americans, this number climbs to nearly 10 deaths per 1,000 births.
Not only education, but the availability of birth attendants is a contributing factor. This is a surprising statistic, given that there are more obstetricians and neonatologists per person in the US than most other countries. Again, it likely comes down to access to these medical professionals and education regarding pregnancy and health care.
One of the other contributing factors cited is the availability and education about birth control. When this is available, as is the case in most of the countries with lower infant mortality rates, teenagers, one of the most likely groups to have pre-term labor, are less likely to become pregnant. This reduces the total group of women who might lose a baby born severely premature.
Along with the high rate of infant deaths in the US, there is also greater risk to mothers. Deaths during pregnancy climb with the infant mortality rate, translating to more risk to moms. This is especially the case when a mother does not deliver a child with a birth attendant.
What can be gleaned from studies like the one done in 2006 is that there are quite clear solutions to the problem. The country may be able to arrest the issue by learning from other nations and helping to ensure better care for American mothers and children.