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U.S. Low on List of Best Places for Moms: Reports of Infant Mortality Rates Flawed?

Comparing infant mortality to other countries, may not be as accurate as we thought.  Photo by: Andrés Nieto Porras

Comparing infant mortality in the United States to other countries may not be as accurate as we thought. Photo by: Andrés Nieto Porras

The State of the World’s Mothers Report for 2013 was recently published by Save the Children. The Mother’s Index is a ranking of 176 countries on the best and worse places for mothers to give birth. This year, the report examined the first day of life, when mothers and their babies are at the greatest risk of dying.

According to the Mother’s Index, the United States falls in at number 30. The United Kingdom did slightly better, in the 23rd spot. Finland, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Netherlands, Denmark, Spain, Belgium, Germany, and Australia are the best places to have babies, according to this report.

With such advanced medical treatments available, how could the United States fall so low on the list?

Worldwide Infant Mortality Reporting Flawed?

The State of the World’s Mothers Report explained that the organization, Save the Children does not collect its own data, but uses international agencies to gather data. The report states, “International agencies sometimes harmonize data to ensure comparability across countries, and adjust for under-reporting, which can lead to discrepancies between international and national estimates.” So does every country have the same definition and requirement for reporting? According to the former head of the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Bernadine Healy, the system is flawed.

Dr. Healy who passed away in 2011, wrote an article, “Behind the Baby Count” that was published in the U.S. News and World Report in 2006. Dr. Healy looked at the statistics on infant mortality rates and the way they are reported in each country and stated in the article, “these comparisons have serious flaws.”

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Dr. Healy explains that the statistics are trying to compare apples to apples, when really they are comparing apples to oranges. For example, Dr. Healy describes in her article that babies born in Austria and Germany must weigh at least 500 grams (one pound) to be considered a live birth. However, in other parts of Europe such as Switzerland, infants must be at least 12 inches long to be considered a live birth, and any baby born before 26 weeks in France and Belgium, regardless of their actual status, are considered lifeless. The United States, on the other hand, counts a live birth as any baby being born that shows any sign of life.

Dr. Healy also explained that in some countries, babies who die within the first 24 hours of life are not reported at all. Dr. Healy writes, “First, it’s shaky ground to compare U.S. infant mortality with reports from other countries. The United States counts all births as live if they show any sign of life, regardless of prematurity or size. This includes what many other countries report as stillbirths.” 

Click to Read Page Two: Infant and Maternal Health Reporting Requirements

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  1. If we can’t depend on the most up-to-date reports for accuracy, what can we depend on??

  2. The question of statistics are interesting, but I doubt women will move to different countries in order to give birth where the infant mortality rate is lower. Clearly there’s a problem with reporting, but I’m more concerned with the “why” rather than “where.” Why are most babies born full-term in some countries; why do babies survive longer after birth in some countries, etc. And I’m not trying to bring up a painful subject here, but do these countries consider abortions in their statistics? This could also change the numbers considering what happens in abortion clinics.

  3. chandra kanta subedi says:

    why babies are not protected from his/her mother?

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