A newborn infant has a greater chance of surviving her first day of life in Mexico, Oman or South Korea than in the United States, according to Save the Children and its 14th annual State of the World's Mothers report, released Tuesday.
Worldwide, more than 1 million infants die on their first day of life; 3 million die within the first month, most from preventable or treatable causes.
"In the U.S., more than 11,000 families lose a baby on their first day of life each year and instead of celebrating a happy birthday, they mourn a terrible loss," said Joy Lawn, a professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and lead researcher on the Save the Children report. In fact, 68 countries have lower first-day death rates than the United States does.
Three infants out of 1,000 born alive die on their first day of life in the United States and in 19 other countries, including Thailand, Romania and Samoa.
"We're the wealthiest country in the world, and babies are dying at unacceptably high rates," said Dr. William Sappenfield, director of the Chiles Center for Healthy Mothers and Babies at the University of South Florida's College of Public Health.
For years, the United States has battled high infant death rates, primarily because of a high rate of premature births. Twelve percent of American infants are born too soon, for reasons that are the subject of much debate. Poor prenatal health care tops the list, but smoking and substance abuse during pregnancy, as well as a high incidence of teen pregnancy, are all factors, Sappenfield said.
How do other nations rate? Only one newborn in 1,000 dies in his or her first day of life in countries such as Japan, Cuba and Finland. The safest places to be born are Luxembourg, Iceland, Cyprus, Estonia, Singapore and Sweden, where the rate of deaths on the first day is less than 0.5 babies per 1,000 born alive.
Sappenfield said data gathering methods might account for some part of the United States' dismal ranking.
But, he said, "We still have problems, and we still have a high prematurity birth rate."