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Black women and infant mortality

TRUDY TOMLINSON | 5/4/2017, 12:20 p.m.
In the United States, data have shown that Black women experience higher rates of birth and pregnancy complications including infant ...
Pregnant woman Pixabay

In the United States, data have shown that Black women experience higher rates of birth and pregnancy complications including infant mortality compared with other ethnicities. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the risk of preterm birth for non-Hispanic Black women is approximately 1.5 times the rate seen in white women.

The CDC released “Trends in Infant Mortality in the United States, 2005-2014,” which shows that babies born to Black women still have infant mortality approximately twice that of non-Hispanic, white women.

“The rates have been double for some time now and it’s perplexing,” stated Dr. Judy Lubin, director of Allies for Reaching Community Health Equity. “The underlying cause of infant mortality is pointing to a number of different factors. Certainly poverty plays a part in it, but racism and psycho-social stress are all part of the reason we continue to see the high numbers among Black women.”

Lubin continued, “It’s not just social economic status because when you look at the data, it shows a stat that high income or middle-class Black women also have high rates of infant mortality. It shows us that there is something else happening in the social context that is contributing to these high rates among Black women. That makes us ask the question: What is it about the social context in which Black women live and exist daily that contribute to higher infant mortality rates? And so certainly one of the keys areas is psycho-social stress.”

Infant mortality is the number of deaths of infants under 1 year old per 1,000 live births. This rate is often used as an indicator of the level of health in a country.

According to the CDC, preterm, or premature, delivery is the most frequent cause of infant mortality, accounting for more than one-third of all infant deaths during the first year of life. Black women have the highest infant mortality at 11 per 1,000 births, compared with white and Hispanic women. Research has shown that high level of stress is a factor in the high infant mortality.

“When researchers have looked into this, you see stress among low income Black women as well as high income and highly educated Black women,” stated Lubin. “The sources of stress might be different, for example for a low-income woman, it may be poverty related stress and insecurities such as not being secure in your housing, the ability to provide for your family, your neighborhood, neighborhood conditions and resources available.”

Lubin added, “We know that there is a higher level of infant mortality when pregnant Black women live in neighborhoods that have higher levels of segregation or social isolation, and because of that you’re going to see higher levels of poor birth outcomes. If you compare white women that are living in predominantly white neighborhoods, then segregation doesn’t have an effect on their birth outcomes. So segregation and what that means for Black communities is something very specific and can easily lead to economic depressed neighborhoods, high crimes neighborhood and neighborhoods that don’t have jobs. These also contribute to the level of stress.”