Sudden Unexpected Infant Deaths Surged Among Black Babies in 2020

Despite a record-low infant mortality rate in 2020, a new study found an unexpected jump in unexplained deaths in Black babies during the first year of the Covid pandemic.

The rate of SIDS, or sudden infant death syndrome, increased by 15 percent in a single year. It jumped from 33.3 deaths per 100,000 babies born in 2019 to 38.2 such deaths in 2020. 

New research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published in the medical journal Pediatrics found that the rate for Black babies spiked in particular, widening an already stark disparity.

The researchers said the finding was absolutely a surprise. 

Each year, thousands of babies die suddenly and unexpectedly, and more than 3,300 young lives were lost in 2020. 

Rates remained stubbornly high in the first year of the Covid pandemic, even as overall infant mortality dropped to a record low.

While the SUID rate for White babies dropped to the lowest it has been since 2017, the rate for Black babies in 2020 was the highest it has been since then. Rates that were already about two times higher for Black babies in 2017 grew to nearly three times higher in 2020, the study found.

For decades, SUID rates had stayed consistent within each racial and ethnic group and were always highest among American Indian infants. But in 2020, the rate among Black infants surpassed that of American Indian infants.

The reasons for the jump are unknown. It could be a statistical anomaly — an unexplained blip in the data — that would need to be monitored for several more years to see whether the increase holds.

Socioeconomic disparities “not only result in limited access to health care and education, but also in many families not having a stable, safe place for their infants to sleep,” the research authors wrote.

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