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Leading Causes of Infant Death

Infant Mortality in the United States

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Updated July 27, 2009

The leading causes of infant death haven't changed in the last several years, despite advanced technology and increased focus on prenatal care. While most people would expect the rate of infant death to be decreasing rapidly, it has actually remained pretty stable since 2000.

The overall rate of infant mortality in the United States is 6.86 deaths per 1,000 births. This data from the CDC's (Center for Disease Control) National Center for Health Statistics is based on the latest statistics available from 2005.

1. Congenital Defects

Congenital defects, also known as birth defects, are problems that occur while a fetus is developing in the womb. Congenital defects can affect the way the body looks or functions and range from mild to severe.

Some defects, such as cleft lip or palate, can be easily fixed or treated. Other congenital defects may need life-long treatment to manage (Down syndrome, heart defects, and others). The most severe congenital defects prove fatal and lead to infant death.

In 2005, 5,571 infants died as a result of congenital defects.

2. Preterm Birth and Low Birth Weight

Preterm birth, also referred to as short gestation period, is a length of pregnancy less than 37 weeks.

Low birth weight is a weight at birth which is less than 2,500 grams (5 pounds, 8 ounces), regardless of the length of gestation.

In 2005, 4,698 infants died as a result of preterm birth or low birth weight.

3. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)

Sudden infant death syndrome is the unexplained, sudden death of infants under the age of 1 year old.

In 2005, 2,234 infants succumbed to SIDS.

4. Maternal Complications of Pregnancy

Maternal complications of pregnancy are problems that occur with the mother during the gestation period and include preeclampsia, placenta previa, and incompetent cervix among many others.

In 2005, 1,769 infants died as a result of maternal complications.

5. Complications of the Umbilical Cord, Placenta, and Membranes

The placenta is an organ inside the womb that supplies the fetus with the blood supply and nutrients necessary for survival.

The umbilical cord connects the mother with the growing fetus at the placenta. The umbilical cord brings oxygen and nutrients to the fetus and takes away waste such as carbon dioxide.

Umbilical cord and placenta complications accounted for 1,095 infant deaths in 2005.

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