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Maternal, Infant, and Child Health

The well-being of mothers, infants, and children determines the health of the next generation and can help predict future public health challenges for families, communities, and the medical care system. Moreover, healthy birth outcomes and early identification and treatment of health conditions among infants can prevent death or disability and enable children to reach their full potential.

Despite major advances in medical care, critical threats to maternal, infant, and child health exist in the United States. Among the Nation’s most pressing challenges are reducing the rate of preterm births, which has risen by more than 20% from 1990 to 2006,1 and reducing the infant death rate, which in 2011 remained higher than the infant death rate in 46 other countries.2

Health Impact of Maternal, Infant, and Child Health

More than 80% of women in the United States will become pregnant and give birth to one or more children.3 31% of these women suffer pregnancy complications, ranging from depression to the need for a cesarean delivery.4 Many of these complications are associated with obesity during pregnancy. Although rare, the risk of death during pregnancy has declined little over the last 20 years.

Each year, 12% of infants are born preterm and 8.2% of infants are born with low birth weight.5 In addition to increasing the infant’s risk of death in its first few days of life, preterm birth and low birth weight can lead to devastating and lifelong disabilities for the child. Primary among these are visual and hearing impairments, developmental delays, and behavioral and emotional problems that range from mild to severe.

Preconception (before pregnancy) and interconception (between pregnancies) care provide an opportunity to identify existing health risks and to prevent future health problems for women and their children. These problems include heart disease, diabetes, genetic conditions, sexually transmitted diseases, and unhealthy weight.


1Martin JA, Hamilton BE, Sutton PD, et al. Births: Final Data for 2006. Natl Vital Stat Rep. 2009;57(7). Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available from [PDF - 1.41MB]

2Central Intelligence Agency. Country comparisons: infant mortality rate. The World Factbook. Available from

3Division of Reproductive Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Maternal and Infant Health Research: Pregnancy Complications. Atlanta, GA: 2010. Available from

4National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Preconception Health and Health Care, 2006. Atlanta, GA: 2006. Available from

5National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Births and natality. FastStats. Hyattsville, MD: 2010. Available from

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