US Newborns Should Be Thriving, Not Dying

Twenty years ago, the risk of newborn death in the United States was only lower in 28 countries. Today, that number is 40. It's sobering to realize that we're now behind 12 countries we used to be well ahead of when it comes to taking care of our babies.

In 1990, according to researchers at the World Health Organization (WHO) and Save the Children, US newborns had a better chance of survival than babies born in Malaysia, Cuba, Lithuania, Greece, Poland, Estonia, and Israel. Now all of those countries have better rates than us.

"Newborn" death means any death in the first four weeks of life and most of them are caused by preterm delivery, asphyxia, and severe infections, all of which are highly preventable with proper care. Here in the US, there is simply no excuse for a mortality rate like we have.

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Dr. Joy Lawn of Save the Children's Saving Newborn Lives said:

We know that solutions as simple as keeping newborns warm, clean, and properly breastfed can keep them alive, but many countries are in desperate need of more and better trained frontline health workers to teach these basic lifesaving practices. The global health worker crisis is the biggest factor in the deaths of mothers and children, and particularly the 3.3 million newborns dying needlessly each year. Training more midwives and more community health workers will allow many more lives to be saved.

It's inexcusable to have such a high a newborn mortality rate in a country where we have so much education and so many resources at our disposal. Throughout the world, from 1990 to 2009, annual newborn deaths decreased from 4.6 million to 3.3 million, which is good, but since so many of those deaths were preventable, it should have been better.

So what can we do? Be vigilant in helping fellow moms when they ask for it. Be aware of the health benefits of nursing and swaddling and bathing and volunteer to share that knowledge. Fight for health care for all. When they say "it takes a village," it really does.

And instead of always taking advice as some slight on our own abilities, maybe we moms ought to lighten up a bit and see that advice -- even when it seems "condescending" -- is often coming from a good place. Nobody knows everything when it comes to child rearing, but in a country like ours, where quality medical care is readily available, there is no excuse for an infant mortality rate so high.

It's up to all of us to educate and be open to learning, too.

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Image via GlenBledsoe/Flickr

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