WHO: Millions of Newborns Needlessly Die in U.S. Each Year
The newborn death rate is higher in the United States than it is in 40 other countries. In a report published Tuesday in the journal PLoS Medicine, researchers at the World Health Organization estimated the number of infant deaths in more than 200 countries over the last 20 years. Worldwide, annual newborn deaths decreased from 4.6 million to 3.3 million between 1990 and 2009; in the U.S., there are 4.3 deaths per 1,000 live births. Twenty years ago, the U.S. had the 28th lowest infant mortality rate; now it's tied at 41st with Qatar, Croatia, and the United Arab Emirates. That's likely because of a lack of attention, funding, and policy changes aimed at reducing neonatal deaths, the researchers said. "It's not that things are worse in the United States than before, it's that the U.S. isn't making progress like other countries," study author Joy Lawn, a pediatrician who works with the children's rights group Save the Children, told the Associated Press. "Training more midwives and other community health workers could save the lives of many more babies. We know that solutions as simple as keeping newborns warm, clean, and properly breast-fed can keep them alive." The three leading causes of infant death are all preventable: preterm delivery, asphyxia, and infection.
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How to Have a Happier, Healthier, Smarter Baby
Pregnant women have tweaked their diets, tried prenatal education tricks, and attempted whatever else baby books and doctors have recommended—all in the quest to have happier, healthier, and perhaps even smarter babies. Mothers-to-be have latched onto fish oil, to cite one example, because of studies crediting omega-3 fatty acids with brighter babies and a lower risk of postpartum depression.
Recent research suggests none of the above. A study published last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association of more than 2,000 pregnant women who took either fish oil or vegetable oil capsules found no benefit to cognitive or language skills of babies born to fish oil-taking mothers. (Nor did fish oil seem to alleviate their postpartum depression.)
So what can women do to enhance their babies' prenatal experiences and give them a leg-up when they enter the world? In her book Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives, journalist Annie Murphy Paul explores the burgeoning field of fetal origins, which examines how the conditions we encounter before birth influence us down the line. U.S. News spoke with Paul, who shared her insight on which prenatal behaviors withstand scientific scrutiny—and which are shaky at best. [Read more: How to Have a Happier, Healthier, Smarter Baby.]
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Pregnant or Thinking About It? 10 Prenatal Tips
From conception to delivery, a fetus is at the mercy of its environment. A mother-to-be has more control over her internal chemistry than she might think, and her odds of having a healthy baby will be much improved if she follows these tips, U.S. News reported in 2008.
1. Take steps even before you're pregnant. If there's a chance you'll conceive, take 400 micrograms of folic acid daily to guard against preventable birth defects such as spina bifida. Also ask your doctor about getting vaccinations against chickenpox and rubella before you try to get pregnant. These and a few other "live" vaccines cannot be given to pregnant women, but if contracted during pregnancy the illnesses can cause birth defects.
2. Don't delay an OB visit. Early blood tests can catch anemia and infections that can affect the fetus if not dealt with quickly. Plus, congenital problems such as fetal heart abnormalities often can be detected and addressed during pregnancy.
3. Write down all meds. Your doctor should review your drugs, vitamins, and supplements. Some of them, such as certain antidepression and seizure medications, can harm your baby's heart and increase your risk of miscarriage.
4. Don't drink. Binge drinking is particularly dangerous to the fetus; known risks include miscarriage, stillbirth, and mental retardation. It may cause facial deformities such as cleft lip and cleft palate. [Read more: Pregnant or Thinking About It? 10 Prenatal Tips.]
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