Racial Disparities in Maternal and Infant Mortality

by | Feb 3, 2020 | Health, Maternal Health

The United States has the highest maternal and infant mortality rates among comparable developed countries. To address this issue, the Los Angeles Urban League, in conjunction with other organizations such as the March of Dimes and the King Drew Medical Center and the South Los Angeles, South Bay, African American Infant & Maternal Mortality Community Action Team, is working with a number of organizations to address this important issue through community outreach focusing on building a base of knowledge around this important issue as well as building leadership training, developing a network of advocacy for prenatal and postpartum support.

The survival rates for African American mothers and their infants are even worse. African American women across the income spectrum and from all walks of life are dying from preventable pregnancy-related complications at three to four times the rate of non-Hispanic white women, while the death rate for black infants is twice that of infants born to non-Hispanic white mothers.

U.S. Infant Mortality Rates

Among women who survive pregnancy and childbirth, 50,000 women each year experience life-threatening pregnancy-related complications, also known as severe maternal morbidity (SMM), a condition that disproportionately affects women of color, with African American women twice as likely to experience SMM compared with non-Hispanic white women. In addition, African American mothers are twice as likely to have an infant who dies by their first birthday. Although other women of color also experience an elevated risk of poor outcomes, racial disparities between African Americans and non-Hispanic whites are significantly higher.

U.S. Maternal Mortality Rates

Pregnancy-related complications are closely tied to infant deaths as well. Nearly two-thirds of infant deaths occur during the first month after birth, often from con-genital abnormalities and complications from preterm births. African Americans have the highest infant mortality rate of any racial or ethnic group in the United States, and higher rates of preterm births explain more than half of the difference, relative to non-Hispanic white women.

A recent report by the Center for American Progress made the following recommendations to address the ongoing threat to African American mothers and their infants:

• Improve access to critical services:
• Strengthen existing health programs and support reproductive health care.
• Screen and treat women at risk for preterm birth.
• Eliminate maternity care deserts.
• Offer African American women tools to navigate the health care system.
• Improve the quality of care provided to pregnant women:
• Train providers to address racism and build a more diverse health care workforce.
• Create standardized assessments for mothers and infants.
• Adopt new models of care and link payment to quality.
• Address maternal and infant mental health:
• Identify barriers to accessing maternal mental health services.
• Dismantle care barriers with a comprehensive approach.
• Screen for and address infant and early childhood mental health issues.
• Enhance supports for families before and after birth:
• Invest in and expand access to policies and programs that support families’ basic needs.
• Invest in community programs that offer one-stop comprehensive services.
• Simplify enrollment across public benefit programs.
• Invest in home visiting.
• Fund community-based education and communications initiatives to support families.
• Improve data collection and oversight:
• Standardize birth and death certificate data.
• Mandate and fund fetal and infant mortality review committees.
• Ensure equity in the review process.

*Portions of this article were taken from a Center for American Progress report.

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