The Alabama Department of Public Health announced the infant mortality rate of 7.4 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2017 is the lowest in Alabama history and is an improvement over the 2016 rate of 9.1. A total of 435 infants born in Alabama died before reaching 1 year of age in 2017; 537 infants died in 2016.
While there is a longstanding disparity between birth outcomes for black and white infants, the infant mortality rate for black infants declined to an all-time low in 2017, and the infant mortality rate for white infants was the second lowest. The rate of 11.2 for black infants was an improvement over the 15.1 rate in 2016, and the rate of 5.5 for white infants was a drop over the 6.5 rate for whites in 2016.
Alabama enjoyed many positive indicators. Teen births and smoking during pregnancy are risk factors that contribute to infant mortality, and both are continuing to decline. The percentage of births to teens (7.3) and the percentage of births to mothers who smoked (9.6) are the lowest ever recorded in Alabama, with the largest decrease among teen mothers. There was also a decline in the number of infants born weighing less than 1,000 grams and infant deaths to those small infants.
While there was a significant decline in infant mortality, the percent of low weight births and births at less than 37 weeks gestation remained the same. Statisticians look at average infant mortality rates for three-year periods. Between the years 2015 through 2017, the combined rate of 8.3 was tied with the years 2009 through 2011 as the two lowest three-year rates of infant mortality in Alabama.
“Due to the sharp decline in the infant mortality rate for 2017, the Alabama Center for Health Statistics worked diligently to ensure all infant deaths were reported,” Center Director Nicole Rushing said. “A decrease in the number of infant deaths reported was seen at almost all hospitals.”
State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said, “We are encouraged with the progress in improved pregnancy outcomes we are seeing, but many challenges remain such as addressing persistent racial disparities, the opioid epidemic and ensuring access to health care.”
Gov. Kay Ivey said, “We must continue our efforts to reduce the number of families who experience the profound sadness of infant deaths. Alabama has developed an infant mortality reduction plan that includes a pilot project to reduce infant mortality by 20 percent in five years.”
Components of the pilot project being conducted in Macon, Montgomery and Russell counties include home visitation, preconception and interconception health care, screening for substance use, domestic violence and depression, safe sleep education, and breastfeeding promotion.
The top three leading causes of infant deaths in 2017 that accounted for 43.4 percent of infant deaths were as follows:
- Congenital malformations, deformations and chromosomal abnormalities
- Disorders related to short gestation and low birth weight
- Sudden infant death syndrome
These top causes of infant deaths parallel those for the U.S. as a whole in 2016.
Graphs and detailed charts are available at the Alabama Department of Public Health website at http://www.alabamapublichealth.gov/healthstats/assets/IM_17.pdf