Infant mortality rate upticks again in Northeast Florida

Infant mortality in Northeast Florida increased in 2016, after a decline in 2015.  In 2016, 139 babies died before their first birthday, the equivalent of eight classes of kindergarteners. With a rate of 7.4 deaths per 1000 live births, the region remains higher than the state (6.1 deaths) and nation (5.8 deaths).

Duval County, the population center of the region, continues to drive the region’s infant mortality rate with 8.4 deaths per 1000 live births. Counties with smaller populations like Baker, Clay and St. Johns saw fluctuations from year-to-year, as a few additional or less deaths impact the rate much more than larger counties.

Infant Mortality 2014-16 by county

Black babies are still dying at more than twice the rate of white babies. Black moms are nearly 2.5 times as likely to experience an infant death as white moms (11.9 deaths per 1000 live births,
compared to 4.9 deaths). This trend has been consistent over the past five years. National trends show that racial disparities persist despite education level or socioeconomic status.

One in five deaths was due to Sudden Unexpected Infants Deaths (SUIDs) in 2016, most of which were sleep-related. SUIDs declined significantly in the 1990s and 2000s in part due to new recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the nationwide Back to Sleep campaign, but have steadily increased since 2012 (up 42 percent in Northeast Florida). These deaths are largely preventable, and are taking up a bigger proportion of infant deaths.

SUIDSBedsharing is a leading factor identified in sleep-related deaths. Causes of death and contributing factors include:

  • Suffocation and strangulation (often associated with bedsharing)
  • Unsafe sleep environments (adult bed, couch or chair, soft items like bedding, blankets and stuffed animals)
  • Position (stomach instead of back)

As the opioid epidemic explodes across the region, state and nation, there has been a dramatic rise in the rate of substance-exposed newborns. Data from 2016 shows that more than 700 babies with NAS were born in facilities in Northeast Florida. Three counties in Northeast Florida (Baker, Clay and Duval) were listed in the top 10 counties in the state for substance-exposed newborns, according to a March 2015 report from the Florida Department of Health.

Babies diagnosed with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome are primarily born to moms who were addicted to opioids and more likely to be born premature and low birthweight. NAS babies also experience irritability, breathing and feeding problems, in addition to a myriad of lifelong issues that often are not realized until the child is older.