The toes of a baby peek out of a blanket...

The toes of a baby peek out of a blanket at a hospital in McAllen, Texas. On Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the increase of U.S. infant mortality rate to 3% in 2022 — a rare increase in a death statistic that has been generally been falling for decades. Credit: AP/Eric Gay

The rate of infants who died before their first birthday increased 3% nationally and 2% in New York in 2022, the first U.S. increase in 20 years, according to preliminary federal data released Wednesday.

The infant mortality rate had declined 22% between 2002 and 2021, according to the Center for Disease Control’s National Center for Health Statistics.

Birth defects remained the most common reason for infant mortality, but there was also an increase in maternal complications and newborns with bacterial sepsis, a body's reaction to an infection.

“In public health, infant mortality is one of the most sensitive indicators of the health of a population,” Martine Hackett, director of public health programs at Hofstra University and co-founder of Birth Justice Warriors, which works to reduce maternal and infant mortality numbers, told Newsday. “So when there is an increase, it tells you something about the larger society.”

The report noted “significant" increases in infant mortality rates among white babies, from 4.36 in 2021 to 4.52 in 2022, and Native American infants, from 7.46 per 1,000 live births in 2021 to 9.06 in 2022.

But the rates remain highest among Black, non-Hispanic infants at 10.86 per 1,000 live births in 2022 compared with 10.55 in 2021.

The rate for male infants, 6.06 in 2002 was up from 5.83 in 2021. The rate for female infants was 5.12 compared with 5.02 in 2021.

The state Department of Health said 2021 and 2022 mortality rates by county were not available. However, the infant mortality rate in Suffolk County was 3.2 in 2020, a drop from 4.2 in 2019. And Nassau County’s rate in 2020 was 2.0, a drop from 3.0 in 2019. 

Mortality rates were up among all infants who were born at less than 37 weeks during that same time period, the report said.

Data released by the March of Dimes in 2022 showed the preterm birthrate in the U.S. had increased over 10% in 2021 over the previous year.

Dr. Dawnette Lewis, director of Northwell Health’s Center for Maternal Health, said the rise in preterm births could be a factor in the increased infant mortality rate.

“This is something we have to pay attention to,” she told Newsday. "Sometimes a preterm birth is spontaneous and sometimes it is indicated because of the condition of the mother.”

Lewis said she’s also interested in seeing more detail on the maternal complications cited in the CDC report that cause infant mortality.

“It could be related to the fact that moms are getting sicker,” she said.

Connecting pregnant and new moms with easier access to health care as well as resources including lactation consultants and breast pumps is also key for infant health said Dr. Shanthy Sridhar, medical director of NICU and Neonatal Transports at Stony Brook Medicine.

“Human milk is a lifesaving medical intervention that optimizes a lot of health outcomes in the first year of life related to infection and conditions that we see in infants,” Sridhar said.

Hackett said problems such as low birth weights and babies being born prematurely can be partially addressed by better access to health care. But she said a mother’s long-term exposure to health and social disparities due to race and ethnicity — known as weathering — takes a physical toll on her body.

“When we are stressed, it affects your body’s systems,” she said. “You have to address people’s basic needs such as food and housing. Social support is a factor that plays such a strong role.”

Hackett is working with Harmony Healthcare Long Island which received a state grant in 2022 to help underserved women at high risk of maternal mortality in eight Nassau County communities. More than 250 women have been helped by the program since it started in July 2022.

“We have a lot of women who are immigrants without health insurance,” said Bernice Baronville-Jabion, a registered nurse who is director of the Perinatal Infant Community Health Collaborative grant. “They are pregnant and they don’t know where to start or what to do.”

The women are linked with a doctor and community health care workers who check on them weekly to help connect them with any resources they might need.

“We make sure we empower them so they know what to do to take care of themself and to have a safe and healthy pregnancy,” Baronville-Jabion said.

After their baby is born, health workers continue to stay in touch every two weeks, until the child is two years old.

“Many of them feel relief that they can count on someone to help them,” said Baronville-Jabion.

The rate of infants who died before their first birthday increased 3% nationally and 2% in New York in 2022, the first U.S. increase in 20 years, according to preliminary federal data released Wednesday.

The infant mortality rate had declined 22% between 2002 and 2021, according to the Center for Disease Control’s National Center for Health Statistics.

Birth defects remained the most common reason for infant mortality, but there was also an increase in maternal complications and newborns with bacterial sepsis, a body's reaction to an infection.

“In public health, infant mortality is one of the most sensitive indicators of the health of a population,” Martine Hackett, director of public health programs at Hofstra University and co-founder of Birth Justice Warriors, which works to reduce maternal and infant mortality numbers, told Newsday. “So when there is an increase, it tells you something about the larger society.”

WHAT TO KNOW

  • The infant mortality rate went up 3% in the U.S. and 2% in New York between 2021 and 2022 — the first increase nationally in 20 years, according to new CDC data.

  • The report noted “significant" increases in infant mortality rates among Native American and white babies, though rates remain highest among Black, non-Hispanic infants.

  • Programs to help pregnant women and new mothers access health care and community support can improve the health of both mothers and babies.

The report noted “significant" increases in infant mortality rates among white babies, from 4.36 in 2021 to 4.52 in 2022, and Native American infants, from 7.46 per 1,000 live births in 2021 to 9.06 in 2022.

But the rates remain highest among Black, non-Hispanic infants at 10.86 per 1,000 live births in 2022 compared with 10.55 in 2021.

The rate for male infants, 6.06 in 2002 was up from 5.83 in 2021. The rate for female infants was 5.12 compared with 5.02 in 2021.

The state Department of Health said 2021 and 2022 mortality rates by county were not available. However, the infant mortality rate in Suffolk County was 3.2 in 2020, a drop from 4.2 in 2019. And Nassau County’s rate in 2020 was 2.0, a drop from 3.0 in 2019. 

Mortality rates were up among all infants who were born at less than 37 weeks during that same time period, the report said.

Data released by the March of Dimes in 2022 showed the preterm birthrate in the U.S. had increased over 10% in 2021 over the previous year.

Dr. Dawnette Lewis, director of Northwell Health’s Center for Maternal Health, said the rise in preterm births could be a factor in the increased infant mortality rate.

“This is something we have to pay attention to,” she told Newsday. "Sometimes a preterm birth is spontaneous and sometimes it is indicated because of the condition of the mother.”

Lewis said she’s also interested in seeing more detail on the maternal complications cited in the CDC report that cause infant mortality.

“It could be related to the fact that moms are getting sicker,” she said.

Connecting pregnant and new moms with easier access to health care as well as resources including lactation consultants and breast pumps is also key for infant health said Dr. Shanthy Sridhar, medical director of NICU and Neonatal Transports at Stony Brook Medicine.

“Human milk is a lifesaving medical intervention that optimizes a lot of health outcomes in the first year of life related to infection and conditions that we see in infants,” Sridhar said.

Hackett said problems such as low birth weights and babies being born prematurely can be partially addressed by better access to health care. But she said a mother’s long-term exposure to health and social disparities due to race and ethnicity — known as weathering — takes a physical toll on her body.

“When we are stressed, it affects your body’s systems,” she said. “You have to address people’s basic needs such as food and housing. Social support is a factor that plays such a strong role.”

Hackett is working with Harmony Healthcare Long Island which received a state grant in 2022 to help underserved women at high risk of maternal mortality in eight Nassau County communities. More than 250 women have been helped by the program since it started in July 2022.

“We have a lot of women who are immigrants without health insurance,” said Bernice Baronville-Jabion, a registered nurse who is director of the Perinatal Infant Community Health Collaborative grant. “They are pregnant and they don’t know where to start or what to do.”

The women are linked with a doctor and community health care workers who check on them weekly to help connect them with any resources they might need.

“We make sure we empower them so they know what to do to take care of themself and to have a safe and healthy pregnancy,” Baronville-Jabion said.

After their baby is born, health workers continue to stay in touch every two weeks, until the child is two years old.

“Many of them feel relief that they can count on someone to help them,” said Baronville-Jabion.

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Get the latest news and more great videos at NewsdayTV Credit: Newsday

Summer tourism ... Shark sightings on LI . . . Dino-Mite Vintage . . . What's Up on Long Island . . . Get the latest news and more great videos at NewsdayTV

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