MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama’s infant death rate has fallen to an all-time low, just a year after it was among the worst in the nation, health officials said Thursday.
The Alabama Department of Public Health said new figures show the state’s infant mortality rate declined to 7.4 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2017. That means 435 infants died before reaching their first birthday compared with 537 infant deaths in 2016, when the death rate that year was 9.1 deaths.
The improvement could be linked to fewer teen pregnancies and fewer women smoking while pregnant. There also was a drop in the number of infants born weighing less than 35 ounces (1,000 grams), and fewer of those small infants died.
“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,” said Dr. Scott Harris, who runs the Health Department.
The improvement was so drastic that state officials checked to see whether all infant deaths had been reported, according to a statement from the agency.
“A decrease in the number of infant deaths reported was seen at almost all hospitals,” said Nicole Rushing, director of the Alabama Center for Health Statistics.
Sudden infant death syndrome was among the leading causes of infant death last year, along with congenital problems, premature birth and low birth weight.
Blacks historically have had higher infant death rates than whites, but statistics showed improvements for both races. The infant mortality rate for black infants declined to an all-time low of 11.2 two deaths per 1,000 births, and the rate for white infants was second-lowest at 5.5 deaths.
A statement from Gov. Kay Ivey says the state has developed a pilot program to reduce infant mortality by 20 percent in five years. The program, being conducted in Macon, Montgomery and Russell counties, includes more health care; screening for substance abuse, domestic violence and depression; breastfeeding promotion; and teaching parents how to place their babies for safer sleeping.