State of American Newborns: “We’re Number 30!?”

May 13th, 2013 | By | Category: Family Planning

By Suzanne York,

Mothers across the U.S. and many other countries were celebrated this past Mother’s Day.  Despite this special day, American women across the country face avoidable harms to their health and that of their babies when giving birth.  A newborn’s actual birth day is the most dangerous time for mothers and babies.

There are many surprising things about the world’s richest nation – high poverty rates, the number of  homeless (including veterans), increasing inequality, and 48 million Americans without health insurance.  And it has one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy for an industrialized country.  But it is the statistics on the first day of a baby’s life that should make American’s take notice. Despite resources and technology, too many babies don’t survive their first day out of the womb.

Save the Children released its annual report on the state of motherhood across the globe.  Take a look at this infographic for a quick overview.  The main factor taken into account is the survival rate for both mother and newborn baby. Unsurprisingly, given their social safety net, the best place to be a mother is in Scandinavia, which makes up 5 of the top 6 countries.  As for the U.S., it comes in 30th place.  Here are some stark facts:

  • More than half of all first-day deaths in the industrialized world are in the U.S. (due in large part to high rates of preterm birth);
  • 11,300 babies in the U.S. die the day they are born (50% more first-day deaths than all other industrialized countries combined);
  • 60% of newborn deaths in the U.S. occur during the first day of life;
  • 1 in 2,400 women in the U.S. die from a maternal cause, the same as Iran.

Perhaps if conservatives knew that America was ranked the same as Iran the situation could be improved.  Obviously there is no excuse for such a low ranking in a country as well off as the United States.  It is partly a matter of priorities, and partly a matter of politics.  Just listen to the discussion on insurance covering birth control, for instance.  The well-being of women is trampled on due to politics.

It’s in the interests of both political parties to ensure healthy births for both child and mother.  But beyond the politics and adequate healthcare/insurance, we already have the answers and solutions to safe births, for the U.S. and every country.  Globally, more than 1 million babies die on the first day of life. It doesn’t have to be this way. 

According to estimates by Save the Children, within the first month of life, more than 1 million babies could be saved each year with universal access to the following products: steroid injections for women in preterm labor (to reduce deaths due to premature babies’ breathing problems); resuscitation devices (to save babies who do not breathe at birth); chlorhexidine cord cleansing (to prevent umbilical cord infections); and injectable antibiotics (to treat newborn sepsis and pneumonia).

The cost for these life-saving interventions is between 13 cents and $6 each; they are available “for rapid scale-up now”. 


In a foreword to the report, Melinda Gates of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation wrote that in addition to the above lifesaving treatments, “improvements in access to contraceptives, maternal nutrition and breastfeeding practices would save even more.”

Is there anything more precious than a newborn baby?  All of society – public and private – should be doing as much as possible to ensure that every child’s first day is safe and healthy, and then every day beyond that.


Suzanne York is a senior writer with the Institute for Population Studies


[Baby photo credit:]


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