Infant mortality

1. Key messages

In 2018, the infant mortality rate was 3.7 per thousand live births. Infant mortality has sharply declined over the last decennia in Belgium. Current rates and trends are similar in the three regions.

2. Background

The infant mortality rate measures the mortality of children below 1 year. It reflects both the consequences of perinatal events and the mortality occurring after the perinatal period, which is often preventable. It is highly correlated to the country's level of development, the quality of medical care, preventive services, and health promotion interventions.

Higher infant mortality rates in boys than in girls have for long been observed in nearly all countries in the world [1]. The explanation is complex, including important biological and genetic factors as well as environmental and behavioral factors resulting in a persistent mortality difference throughout infancy and even later [2,3].

Large fluctuations in yearly rates are observed at regional level, due to the small number of infant deaths. Meaningful comparisons of rates and trends by region are therefore best made on smoothed rates. In this overview, we use a moving average over 5 years period.

Deaths occurring in Belgium may occur in legal residents (registered in the National Register, with a Belgian or foreign nationality), asylum seekers (registered in the Register of Asylum Seekers), or non-residents (travelers, illegal, etc.). Official statistics on infant mortality include legal residents and asylum seekers.

On this page, we first present all infant deaths in Belgium by residence status, and then focus on the deaths of infants whose mothers were registered in the National Register.

3. Infant mortality rate

Belgium

All infant deaths

In the year 2018, Belgian authorities registered a total of 465 infant deaths.

Among those, 436 deaths occurred in infants born from a resident mother, that is registered in the National Registry. 3 additional deaths occurred in children born from mothers registered in the Asylum Seeker Register (R5). For 26 deaths, the mother was non-resident or the infant death was notified only via a death certificate.

The same year, the total number of live births was equal to 120 827, 117 800 were registered in the national register, 519 were registered in the asylum seeker register and for 2508 births the mother was non-resident or the birth was only notified with a birth certificate.

  Number of deaths Number of live births Infant mortality rate
Infant deaths among people registered in National Register 436 117,800 3.70
Infant deaths among people registered in National Register or Asylum Seeker Register 439 118,319 3.71
All infant deaths
465 120,827 3.85
Infant deaths among people registered in National Register

In 2018, the infant mortality rate was 3.7 per thousand live births. Infant mortality rates have decreased by 30% between 1998 and 2018 (in 1998, 5.3‰).

The infant mortality rate in 2018 was 3.2 per thousand live births in girls and 4.1‰ in boys, corresponding to an absolute gap of 0.9‰ and a sex ratio of 1.3. The gender gaps in mortality rates are fluctuating over time due to small numbers of infant deaths.

After smoothing, the mortality differences between girls and boys persists (respectively 2.9‰ and 3.9‰).

  • Crude
  • Smoothed

Crude infant mortality rate (‰) by sex, 1998-2018
Source: Statbel [4]

Smoothed infant mortality rate (‰) (5-year moving average) by sex, 2002-2018
Source: Own calculation based on Statbel [4]

Trends and regional disparities

The infant mortality rates in the three regions were similar in 2018: 3.9‰ in Flanders, 3.5‰ in Brussels, and in Wallonia.

After smoothing, the 2018 infant mortality rates were similar in Flanders and Wallonia 3.5‰ and 3.4 ‰ respectively, and slightly lower in Brussels (3.2‰); this should however be confirmed on a longer period before concluding to a real difference, since the number of infant deaths in Brussels is very small.

Over time, a strong decline has been observed in all regions. In Brussels, the rate used to be higher than in the other regions until 2009, then declined more sharply.

  • Crude
  • Smoothed

Crude infant mortality rate (‰) by region, 1998-2018
Source: Statbel [4]

Smoothed infant mortality rate (‰) (5-year moving average) by region, 2002-2018
Source: Own calculation based on Statbel [4]

International comparison

In 2018, the Belgian infant mortality was higher than the EU-15 average (3.2). After Luxembourg, the United Kingdom, and ex aequo with France, Belgium had the 4th highest infant mortality rate in 2018 among the EU-15.

Infant mortality rate by country of birth, Europe, 2018
Source: OECD Health Data [5]

4. Read more

View the metadata for this indicator

SPMA: Standardized Procedures for Mortality Analysis in Belgium

Definitions

EU-15
The EU-15 corresponds to all countries that belonged to the European Union between 1995 and 2004: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom. We compare the Belgian health status to that of the EU-15 because these countries have similar socioeconomic conditions.
Infant mortality rate
The infant mortality rate is the number of deaths of children under one year of age per 1000 live births in the same year.
Sex ratio
The sex ratio is the mortality rate of boys under the age of 1 divided by the mortality rate of girls under the age of 1. A sex ratio of 1.2 means that there are 1.2 times more infant deaths in boys than in girls.

References

  1. UN IGME. United Nations Interagency Group for Child Mortality Estimation; 2018. https://childmortality.org/data
  2. Drevenstedt GL, Crimmins EM, Vasunilashorn S, Finch CE. The rise and fall of excess male infant mortality, 2008. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18362357/ 
  3. Sidebotham P, Fraser J, Covington T, Freemantle J, Petrou S, Pulikottil-Jacob R, et al. Understanding why children die in high-income countries, 2014. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25209491/ 
  4. Statbel, 1998-2018. https://statbel.fgov.be/en/themes/population/mortality-life-expectancy-and-causes-death/feto-infant-mortality
  5. OECD Health Data, 2018. https://stats.oecd.org/