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Risk Factors Associated With Infant Mortality

Health officials say the infant mortality rate alone is only part of the picture and does not provide information about other variables known to be related to infant mortality: age and education level of the mother, when prenatal care was begun, weeks of gestation at birth, and birth weight (notable variables because prematurity is the leading cause of low birth weight, and low birth weight the leading cause of infant mortality). For this reason, an increase or decrease in the infant mortality rate alone is often not a true reflection, nor a blanket indicator, of the many community dynamics that affect maternal and child health, and should not be interpreted as such.

There are many risk factors associated with infant deaths. Although not all babies born with these risk factors will die during the first year of life, minimizing these risks helps improve birth outcomes and child health generally. Also, it is important to note that not all of these risk factors are known to cause infant death, but all are known to be associated with infant mortality. Risk factors generally associated with infant mortality include:

  • Low birth weight
  • Not receiving adequate prenatal care (barriers to prenatal care can include lack of transportation, lack of insurance or means to pay for care, lack of child care, etc.)
  • Poverty or unstable income
  • Poor nutrition
  • Lack of education
  • Mother's age greater than 35 or lower than 18
  • Mothers who are not married
  • Substance abuse such as smoking, drinking alcohol, and using illegal drugs
  • Infection, illness, and other pregnancy complications
  • Co-sleeping, improper bedding (factors in Sudden Infant Death Syndrome deaths)
  • Unsafe environment, unsafe toys (factors associated with accidental deaths)

The racial disparities in infant deaths and low birth weight cannot be explained by the above factors alone. Even among mothers with none of these risk factors, there is still a disparity between whites and African Americans in both infant death and low birth weight.

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