News & Commentary

Racial disparities seen in both fetal and infant deaths

For the first time, there were more fetal deaths than infant deaths in the United States in 2013, according to CDC data. The difference was about 1%, with 23,595 fetal deaths (intrauterine deaths at 20 weeks of gestation or more) and 23,446 infant deaths.

Fetal and infant mortality rates: United States, 1990–2013

Overall, the fetal death rate has been steady since 2006 while the infant mortality rate fell by 11% during that period. Significant racial disparities exist in both categories. The number of fetal deaths for black women was 10.53 per 1,000 pregnancies, more than twice the number for white women and Asian or Pacific Islander women. The number of infant deaths for black women was 10.75, which was, again, more than twice the number of the other groups.

Fetal and perinatal mortality rates* by race (2013)

*20 weeks of gestation or more
†Includes infant deaths under age 7 days
Source: “Fetal and Perinatal Mortality: United States, 2013,” National Vital Statistics Reports, CDC, July 23, 2015

CDC researchers refer to fetal mortality as a major, but little known, public health problem. “Much of the public concern surrounding reproductive loss has focused on infant mortality, due in part to a lesser knowledge of the incidence, etiology, and prevention strategies for fetal mortality,” the study states.

They add that the racial disparities in fetal deaths are not well understood. “Factors frequently mentioned as contributing to the black-white fetal and perinatal mortality gap are racial differences in maternal preconception health, infection, income, access to quality health care, stress and racism, and cultural factors; however, much of the black-white disparity in perinatal mortality remains unexplained.”