Leading Causes of Infant Death

Infant Mortality in the United States

The leading causes of infant death haven't changed in the last several years, despite advanced technology and increased focus on prenatal care. While most people would expect the rate of infant death to be decreasing rapidly, it has actually remained pretty stable since 2000.

The overall rate of infant mortality in the United States is 5.82 deaths per 1,000 births. The 10 leading causes of infant death in the United States in 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, account for nearly 70 percent of all fatalities.


Congenital Defects

Blond toddler crouching outdoors
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Congenital defects, also known as birth defects , are problems that occur while a fetus is developing in the womb. Congenital defects can affect the way the body looks or functions and range from mild to severe.

Some defects, such as cleft lip or palate, can be easily fixed or treated. Other congenital defects may need life-long treatment to manage (Down syndrome, heart defects, and others). The most severe congenital defects prove fatal and lead to infant death.

In 2014, 4,716 infants died as a result of congenital defects—20.4 percent of all infant deaths.


Preterm Birth and Low Birth Weight

Preterm birth, also referred to as short gestation period, is a length of pregnancy less than 37 weeks.

Low birth weight is a weight at birth which is less than 2,500 grams (5 pounds, 8 ounces), regardless of the length of gestation.

In 2005, 4,173 infants died as a result of preterm birth or low birth weight (18 percent of the total).


Maternal Complications of Pregnancy

Maternal complications of pregnancy are problems that occur with the mother during the gestation period and include preeclampsia, placenta previa, and incompetent cervix among many others.

In 2005, 1,574 infants (6.8 percent of the total) died as a result of maternal complications.


Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)

Sudden infant death syndrome is the unexplained, sudden death of infants under the age of 1 year old.

In 2005, 1,545 infants succumbed to SIDS. That's 6.7 percent of infant deaths.



In 2014,  1,160 infants, or 5 percent of infants who died, succumbed to unintentionally inflicted injuries. 


Complications of the Umbilical Cord, Placenta, and Membranes

The placenta is an organ inside the womb that supplies the fetus with the blood supply and nutrients necessary for survival.

The umbilical cord connects the mother to the growing fetus at the placenta. The umbilical cord brings oxygen and nutrients to the fetus and takes away waste such as carbon dioxide.

Umbilical cord and placenta complications accounted for 965 infant deaths in 2014, at 4.2 percent of the total.


The Remaining Top 10

 The remaining infant deaths in the top 10 positions include:

  • Bacterial sepsis (544 deaths, 2.3 percent of total)
  • Respiratory distress (460 deaths, 2.0 percent)
  • Circulatory-system diseases (444 deaths, 1.9 percent)
  • Neonatal hemorrhage (441 deaths, 1.9 percent)

Data Tracking

Mortality reports are published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which tracks infant deaths reported through hospitals. Comprehensive data for 2014 was published in "Deaths: Final Data for 2014," as vol. 65, No. 4, of the National Vital Statistics Reports released by the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics.

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