Nearly 28,000 babies died before their first birthday, according to new infant mortality statistics for 2003 released by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).
The infant mortality rates showed no significant improvement in 2003 after increasing in 2002 for the first time since 1958.
In 2003, the infant mortality rate was 6.8 deaths for every 1,000 live births, which was statistically unchanged from the 2002 rate of 7.0. Two-thirds of all infant deaths occurred within the first month of life.
"These new statistics are sobering. Essentially there has been no improvement in the infant death rate since 2000. Premature birth is the leading cause of newborn death in the first month of life and preventing premature birth remains at the forefront of the March of Dimes agenda," said Nancy Green, M.D., medical director of the March of Dimes. "We must be more focused upon reversing the stagnancy in the rate of infant mortality, a key indicator of child health, including working to reduce preterm and low birthweight births."
Birthweight and gestational age are two major predictors of infant health and survival. In 2003 birth defects, as well as prematurity and low birthweight remained the leading causes of infant death, according to the NCHS.
The percentage of infant deaths occurring to babies born premature (less than 37 weeks gestation) or with a low birthweight (less than 2500 grams or 5.5 pounds) increased 9 percent between 1995 and 2003, according to an analyses by the March of Dimes.
Babies born at less than 28 weeks gestation accounted for less than 1 percent (0.7 percent) all live births but nearly half (46.4 percent) of all U.S. infant deaths in 2003. Also, infants weighing less than 1,000 grams or 2.2 pounds at birth also accounted for less than one percent (0.8 percent) of births and nearly half (48.7 percent) of all infant deaths in the U.S. in 2003.
Multiple births had mortality rates more than five times that of singleton babies, according to the NCHS report. Babies born to Black mothers continued to have the highest rate of infant deaths at 13.5 per 1,000 live births, while Asians had the lowest rate at 4.8. The rate for American Indians was 8.7 and for Whites it was 5.7. Infants born to Hispanic mothers, who can be of any race, had an infant mortality rate of 5.6.
The March of Dimes "I Want My Nine Months" educational campaign aims to inform women and their doctors what they can do - even before pregnancy - to help give babies their full nine months of gestation.
Women should avoid the dangers to the fetus of smoking, as maternal smoking is associated with higher infant mortality rates and increased risk of preterm and low birthweight births. The March of Dimes also urges women to take a multivitamin containing folic acid prior to and during early pregnancy to reduce the risk of serious birth defects; abstain from drinking alcohol during pregnancy and see their doctors to help manage chronic health conditions such as diabetes, hypertension and obesity.