Health and Family

Infant Mortality

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Infant Mortality

The infant mortality rate reflects the quality of prenatal and birth care available to both children and mothers. Virginia's infant mortality rate has been dropping for years, but still is slightly higher than the national average. The state's health professionals are addressing this complex problem via a range of approaches, from researching the causes of infant mortality to promoting healthy prenatal care among at-risk populations.

Why is This Important?

Infant mortality is defined by the number of infant deaths (before age one) per 1,000 live births and is an indication of the quality and accessibility of prenatal care for pregnant women. The infant mortality rate is a critical indicator in the overall health and welfare of a nation.

How is Virginia Doing?

Infant Mortality Rates by State.  See text for explanation.

In 2013 -- the most recent year available for national-level data -- Virginia's infant mortality rate dropped again, to 6.2 deaths per 1,000 births, ranking the state 26th nationally. This rate was slightly higher than the national average of 6.0 infant deaths, but better than all peer states: Maryland (6.6), Tennessee (6.8) and North Carolina (7.0). Iowa had the lowest infant mortality rate in the nation in 2013 at 4.1 infant deaths.

Infant Mortality Rate by Virginia Region. See text for explanation.

Since 2007, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) has been working with local health districts and community health leaders to combat infant mortality in especially vulnerable areas of the state. Although there are sometimes marked swings in regional performance, that approach overall is yielding results, as VDH’s figures for 2014 show the average infant mortality rate had dropped to 5.7. The Eastern region had the lowest rate of infant deaths at 3.5, while the Southside region had the highest rate at 9.8 deaths per 1,000 live births.

Virginia ranked 12th out of the 50 states in terms of adequacy of prenatal care in 2011, with 85 percent of pregnant women receiving care in the first trimester.

What Influences Infant Mortality?

Key factors associated with increased risk of infant mortality include:

Socioeconomic Factors:  Communities with high rates of poverty; substandard housing; illiteracy; exposure to alcohol, illicit drugs, or pollutants such as cigarette smoke, paint, lead, and asbestos.

Physical Causes:  Congenital malformations; disorders related to short gestation and low birth weight; sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS); maternal complications; maternal substance abuse; cord and placental complications; accidents; respiratory distress of newborn; bacterial sepsis of newborn; neonatal hemorrhage; intrauterine hypoxia and birth asphyxia; and maternal age.

What is the State's Role?

Virginia is working to eliminate disparities among racial and ethnic groups with infant mortality rates above the national average. Public health agencies continue to monitor infant mortality trends for all groups, and are focusing on modifying the behaviors, lifestyles, and conditions that affect birth outcomes, such as smoking, substance abuse, poor nutrition, lack of prenatal care, medical problems, and chronic illness.

Substantial investments have been made in health services delivery to reduce disparities in access to health care. The plan to reduce infant mortality rates includes:

  • creating a network between health care experts and minority communities to educate and encourage healthy behaviors in pregnant women and parents;
  • participating in national research on SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) to identify at-risk infants more precisely and create effective interventions.

The federally funded Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Program provides supplemental nutrition, nutrition education and counseling, breast feeding support, and referrals to health and other social services at no charge.

Family planning services are provided in all local health departments across the state. They serve females of all ages; males may access more limited reproductive health services.

Page last modified April 26, 2016
Infant Mortality Rates by State Infant Mortality Rates by Virginia Region

State rankings are ordered so that #1 is understood to be the best.

Data and Definitions

Regional Data:  Virginia Department of Health, Center for Health Statistics

State Data:  National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,

Prenatal Health Care Data:  United Health Foundation, America’s Health Rankings.

See the Data Sources and Updates Calendar for a detailed list of the data resources used for indicator measures on Virginia Performs.

At a Glance:
Infant Mortality Rates in Virginia

Performance Trend: Trend is improving.
State Influence:  

National Ranking: Virginia's infant mortality rate in 2013 ranked 26th nationally. 

Virginia by Region: In 2014 the Eastern region had the lowest rate of infant deaths at 3.5 per 1,000 live births.

Related Agency Measures
State Programs & Initiatives

The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) has launched a number of initiatives -- from regional summits of health professionals to a folic acid campaign -- to combat the state's infant mortality issues:

  • VA PRAM -- Virginia Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System -- is a joint project of the Virginia Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which collects Virginia-specific, population-based data on maternal attitudes and experiences before, during, and shortly after pregnancy.
  • Virginia Newborn Screening Program was created to help prevent mental retardation, permanent disability, or death through early identification and treatment of infants who are affected by certain heritable disorders and genetic diseases.

HealthBites is an interactive website from VDH aimed at helping users learn more about providing the best nutritional care for their children, from infancy on up. The site offers fun, informative videos on nutrition and ideas for simple, healthy recipes; WIC participants can complete modules to receive nutrition education credit for WIC.

VDH also sponsors a number of community-based programs to combat infant mortality, especially in at-risk communities.  These include the Resource Mothers program to mentor and educate teen mothers, and the Loving Steps program, which involves community leaders, health care providers and parents via nursing case management, nutrition counseling and home visits.

Additional Information

Bright Futures provides practical, developmental health supervision for children of all ages, from birth through adolescence. Bright Futures is dedicated to the principle that every child deserves to be healthy and that optimal health involves a trusting relationship between the health professional, the child, the family, and the community as partners in health practice.