Over the past five years, far fewer babies died in Hamilton County than ever before. From 2012-2016 Hamilton County saw a historically low infant mortality rate with 8.96 deaths for every 1,000 births. That means that 123 fewer babies died during the past 5 years compared to the previous 5. This 20% drop was nearly twice the rate of improvement at the national level and the fastest improvement in the state of Ohio.  However, our rate of infant death is still much higher than the national average of 5.82 deaths per 1,000 live births. 97 babies died in 2016, down slightly from 100 deaths in 2015.

IMR ChartTotal Infant Deaths Chart

The three leading causes of infant death in Hamilton County from 2012-2016 were preterm birth, birth defects and sleep-related deaths. While preterm birth and sleep-related deaths are both steadily improving, 2016 saw an increase in babies who died from birth defects.

TREND 1: Extreme preterm birth is steadily improving.

About half of all local babies born before the end of their mom’s 2nd trimester do not survive. This extreme prematurity is the leading cause of infant death in Hamilton County. Hamilton County saw an average of 18 fewer extremely preterm babies born each year from 2012-2016 compared to 2007-2011, a 14% drop. Relatedly, we know that two leading causes of preterm birth are also on the decline. Short pregnancy spacing decreased by 12% during this time and maternal smoking decreased by 19%.  In 2016, fewer babies died from preterm birth related causes than in any previous year.

TREND 2: Sleep-related infant deaths are now consistently below historic levels, but are still a key concern. 

Babies sleep safest Alone, on their Back and in a Crib. When babies sleep on their stomach, have a crib crowded with large blankets or share a bed with an adult, they are at increased risk of dying in their sleep. For the 5th year in a row, Hamilton County has had fewer than average sleep-related deaths. From 2007-2011, our community averaged 17 of these types of deaths each year. Every year since we have had fewer, including 13 deaths in 2016. If our community were at the national average, we would expect 9 sleep-related deaths each year. The leading cause of sleep-related deaths in Hamilton County is suffocation due to babies sharing a bed with an adult and the adult rolling onto the child. Though, in recent years, deaths caused by large blankets, pillows and other items in the crib with babies are on the rise.

TREND 3: Hamilton County is experiencing an increase in babies born with fatal birth defects.

In 2016, we lost 25 babies to fatal birth defects. This represents the highest number of local deaths from this cause in recent years. Further, if we were at the national average, we would have lost only 13 babies to birth defects last year. Fatal heart defects are the leading type of defect that contributes to infant death in Hamilton County.

There are many unknowns when it comes to birth defects. In many of these cases, science does not yet fully understand the cause of these types of deaths. Cradle Cincinnati will be monitoring this trend to see if it continues while we seek to better understand what is going wrong and what might be done to prevent these tragedies in the future.

To reduce the risk of birth defects, the Ohio Department of Health recommends that pregnant women take 400 micrograms of folic acid daily, get a Rubella vaccination, maintain a healthy weight, and avoid alcohol. Women with gestational diabetes can also reduce their risk by working closely with their prenatal care provider to carefully control their diabetes throughout their pregnancy.

TREND 4: Fewer African American babies died in 2016, but racial disparity is still very high.

Nationally and locally African American babies are 2.5X as likely to die before their first birthday. In Hamilton County, the number of African American infant deaths fell by 24% in the past 5 years.  And, in 2016, with 48 deaths, Hamilton County had its fewest number of African American infant deaths on record.

More collaborative efforts to reduce infant mortality are coming in 2017.

New collaborative projects in 2017 include:

  • In partnership with Ohio Medicaid, Cradle Cincinnati partners are hiring 13 new community health workers to serve 1,000 new moms over the next two years with evidence-based social support.
  • In 2017, Cradle Cincinnati’s partners will launch their second strategic planning process in hopes of reducing these numbers even further over the next 5 years.
  • A new safe sleep campaign was launched in March to continue to promote the message that babies sleep safest alone, on their back and in a crib.

Read the full report here.

Supporting data:

Supporting Data Table

Data Sources: Hamilton County Fetal and Infant Mortality Review, Hamilton County Public Health, Ohio Vital Statistics and CDC. 2016 data is preliminary.