What are the most common causes of neonatal mortality?

Common causes of neonatal mortality include premature delivery, congenital conditions, and infection. Exact rates vary by nation. In developing countries, problems such as malnutrition and disease are common causes of neonatal mortality, while in developed countries, congenital conditions and complications associated with preterm birth tend to top the statistics. Various organizations, such as the World Health Organization, have been involved in campaigns to reduce preventable neonatal mortality as well as maternal deaths.

The term "neonatal mortality" refers to infant deaths within 28 days of birth. Birth defects are a common cause; in some cases they are not identified before birth, and in others, they are diagnosed and the parents proceed with the pregnancy aware of the risks. Many birth defects can cause death soon after birth because they interfere with key functions like breathing. In these cases, only supportive care can be given to the baby. Other birth defects are manageable but untreatable in regions where access to medical care is limited, causing neonatal mortality.

Premature labor is another common culprit. Although care for premature babies has improved dramatically in developed countries, babies born too early are still at significant risk of complications such as infections and cardiac arrhythmias. In countries where women cannot access high-quality hospital care during preterm birth, the chances of infant survival are dramatically diminished. In some settings, basic care, such as keeping the baby warm and well fed, may be the only medical care available.

Historically, dehydration as a result of diarrhea was a very common cause of neonatal mortality in the developing world. Efforts by international health organizations to educate parents on the use of rehydration solutions have reduced this common risk factor. Babies can also die as a result of malnutrition, a common concern during famine, and from infections such as pneumonia, as their bodies are too fragile to fight off infection.

Another cause of neonatal mortality is sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). This condition can be seen in a wide variety of settings, from nations where access to healthcare is excellent to remote areas where limited care is provided to mothers and children. The causes of SIDS are not well understood, and even when parents follow practical advice like using approved bedding, it can still happen. Research to learn more about why and how SIDS occurs is underway in many nations to develop best practices to prevent and address it.

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