Almost 500 babies born in Alabama in 2015 did not live to celebrate their first birthdays, and the tragedy of those deaths fell most heavily on African-American families.
The overall infant mortality rate in Alabama fell to 8.3 deaths per 1,000 births last year from 8.7 in 2014. The rate for white infants fell to a 10-year low of 5.2 as the rate for black infants rose to its highest rate in a decade, 15.3. The most recent infant mortality rate for the nation is 5.8 deaths in the first year for every 1,000 births.
About a third of the 59,651 babies born in Alabama last year were born to African-American mothers.
“The racial disparity between black and white infant birth outcomes continues to be of great concern,” said State Health Officer Dr. Tom Miller in a statement. “The black rate is almost three times the white rate in the state. There is much work to be done to address this ongoing challenge. We need to explore and transform social determinants of infant mortality in our population by addressing modifiable risk factors that contribute to unfavorable birth outcomes.”
“I think we’re heading in the wrong direction,” Thomas said. “We’re seeing the racial disparity widen and that is not the direction we want to be going. To be quite frank, it’s depressing.”
National researchers who study racial differences in infant mortality said much of the disparity can be tied to education, unemployment and other social determinants of health, Thomas said. Reversing those trends could take several years.
The top three causes of infant mortality in Alabama are congenital abnormalities, premature birth and sleep-related causes. The number of babies born before 37 weeks gestation has been dropping in Alabama for years.
Risk factors for infant mortality include poor maternal health, unhealthy lifestyles and short intervals between births. The health department said it will increase education about safe sleeping and contraception to decrease risk factors that can contribute to infant deaths.
Thomas said increasing education around sleeping could hopefully help reduce some infant deaths fairly quickly.
Babies with low birth weight, below 5 pounds 8 ounces, accounted for almost 70 percent of those who died during infancy, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health. Those babies are 20 times more likely to die during their first year than normal-weight newborns and account for about 10 percent of all births in the state.
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