Skip Navigation


In 2002, 27,970 infants died before their first birthday. The infant mortality rate was 7.0 deaths per 1,000 live births, representing a small but significant increase from the previous year, the first such increase in 40 years. The leading causes of infant mortality include birth defects, low birth weight and prematurity, and pregnancy complications. Approximately 25 percent of the increase in infant mortality is due to multiple births.1

The rapid decline in infant mortality, which began in the mid-1960s, slowed among both Blacks and Whites during the 1980s. Major advances, including the approval of synthetic surfactants and the recommendation that infants be placed on their backs when sleeping, may have contributed to a renewed decline during the 1990s. In 2002, the leading cause of infant mortality was congenital malformations, deformations and chromosomal abnormalities, which accounted for 20.2 percent of infant deaths.

Based on preliminary data, mortality among non-Hispanic Black infants remained stable at 13.9 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2002. The rate of 5.8 deaths per 1,000 live births among non-Hispanic White infants represented a slight increase over the rate in 2001. The infant mortality rate for non-Hispanic Black infants continues to be 2.5 times that of non-Hispanic White infants. Although the trend in infant mortality rates among non-Hispanic Blacks and non-Hispanic Whites has generally declined throughout the 20th century, the proportional discrepancy between the non-Hispanic Black and non-Hispanic White rates remains largely unchanged.

The Maternal and Child Health Block Grant and the Maternal and Child Health Bureau’s Healthy Start Program provide health and support services to pregnant women and infants with the goal of reducing infant mortality rates.

Graph: US Mortality Rates Among Infants[d]

1 MacDorman MF et al. Explaining the 2001-02 Infant Mortality Increase: Data from the Linked Birth/Infant Death Set. NVSR 2005; 53(12).