Infant and Perinatal Mortality and the Environment
Infant mortality is when an infant dies before he or she is 1 year old. Perinatal mortality can have several different meanings:
- Death after the 28th week of pregnancy, but before the 7th day of age,
- Death less than 28 days of age and fetal deaths of 20 weeks or more, or
- Deaths less than 7 days of age and fetal deaths of 20 weeks or more.
A fetus and an infant may be affected by the harmful effects of environmental contaminants even inside the womb. Many environmental contaminants can make their way into the circulatory system of the developing fetus through the placenta. Even if a potentially harmful exposure is found, the health effects on the fetus are often not well understood until years later. Environmental exposure may not be the only cause of infant and perinatal death. Other factors include:
- Access to quality health care
- Having good childcare
- Understanding ways to prevent injury
Outdoor air pollution is one example of a connection between environmental health and infant death. Air pollution in the form of particulate matter (PM10) has been associated with an increase in the rate of postneonatal deaths. Postneonatal deaths occur from age 28 days through the first year of life. The major causes of death associated with PM10 exposure are deaths from respiratory causes and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS. Pesticides have also been associated with fetal death and spontaneous fetal death or miscarriage, but more research is needed in this area.
Exposure and Risk
The leading causes of infant death include:
- Congenital abnormalities
- Pre-term/low birth weight
- Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
- Problems related to complications of pregnancy
- Respiratory distress syndrome
Risk factors that may increase a woman's chance of fetal loss include:
- Pre-pregnancy obesity
- Lower socioeconomic status
- Non-Hispanic black race
- Older age
- Exposure to pesticides
Health care providers should tell their patients what they can do to have a healthy pregnancy such as:
- Quit smoking
- Stop illegal drug and alcohol abuse
- Eat well
- Reduce stress
- Get prenatal care
- Manage chronic illness and other medical problems
Communities can also help out by encouraging pregnant women to get prenatal care in the first trimester.
Parents and caregivers should always place sleeping infants on their backs. Research has found that infants who sleep on their stomachs or sides are at higher risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS. Babies should also sleep in a crib instead of their parents' bed.
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