Pregnancies in very young first-time mothers carry a high risk of delivering low birth weight infants. In 2002, the average age of first-time mothers in Canada was 27.7 years. During the same year, the same statistic for U.S. mothers was 25.1 — an all-time high.
Some of the countries reporting infant mortality rates lower than the U.S. classify babies as “stillborn” if they survive less than 24 hours whether or not such babies breathe, move, or have a beating heart at birth.
Forty percent of all infant deaths occur in the first 24 hours of life.
In the United States, all infants who show signs of life at birth (take a breath, move voluntarily, have a heartbeat) are considered alive.
If a child in Hong Kong or Japan is born alive but dies within the first 24 hours of birth, he or she is reported as a “miscarriage” and does not affect the country’s reported infant mortality rates.
The length of pregnancy considered “normal” is 37-41 weeks. In Belgium and France — in fact, in most European Union countries — any baby born before 26 weeks gestation is not considered alive and therefore does not “count” against reported infant mortality rates.
Too short to count?
In Switzerland and other parts of Europe, a baby born who is less than 30 centimeters long is not counted as a live birth. Therefore, unlike in the U.S., such high-risk infants cannot affect Swiss infant mortality rates.
Efforts to salvage these tiny babies reflect this classification. Since 2000, 42 of the world’s 52 surviving babies weighing less than 400g (0.9 lbs.) were born in the United States.
The parents of these children may view socialized medicine somewhat differently than its proponents.