- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 27, 2014

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - The infant mortality rate in New Mexico has dropped significantly last year, but health officials said this week that the change is not rare.

The latest figures show a decrease from 6.9 infant deaths per 1,000 live births in 2012 to 5.4 in 2013, the state Department of Health said Tuesday.

“The infant mortality rate in New Mexico can vary substantially from year to year,” Health Secretary Retta Ward said in a news release. “Steep increases or decreases from year to year are not uncommon.”

The department is trying to understand the causes and implement initiatives to prevent or decrease infant deaths, Ward said.

Mark Kassouf, bureau chief for the state’s Vital Records and Health Statistics, said the infant mortality rate has been stable overall.

“Over the last about 20 years, we’ve only had two spikes that went past the national average, so it’s been a fairly consistent ride for the state in infant mortality,” Kassouf told the Santa Fe New Mexican (https://bit.ly/1zF3BTf ).

The 2012 rate at the time surpassed the national average of 6 deaths per 1,000 births. It was considered unusually high, compared with an average of 5.3 deaths between 2009 and 2011.

Birth defects as well as low birth weight and disorders related to preterm births were the most common causes of infant deaths in 2012. Camille Clifford, an epidemiologist with Vital Records and Health Statistics, believes lack of access to proper prenatal care also played a role in higher death rates.

“There was a significant increase in mothers that had no prenatal care or a low level of prenatal care compared to the prior three years,” Clifford said.

The abnormally high number in 2012 was also believed to be tied to young mothers.

“When we analyzed the data, we saw that there was more infant mortality among teenage mothers than there was during the prior three years,” Clifford said.

The department has been participating in a regional collaborative to reduce infant mortality, officials said.

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