Black Women are Twice as Likely to Lose Their Babies as White Women. Here’s Why.

Mother’s Day is supposed to be a celebration, but there is a darker side to this day for many African-American mothers.

“Black infants in America are now more than twice as likely to die as white infants – 11.3 per 1,000 black babies, compared with 4.9 per 1,000 white babies – a racial disparity that is actually wider than in 1850, 15 years before the end of slavery, when most black women were considered chattel,” reports Linda Villarosa, writing in The New York Times Magazine.

That adds up to more than 4,000 lost black babies each year. This disturbing number is unrelated to education or income: An affluent black woman with an advanced degree is more likely to lose her baby than an uneducated white woman with little or no prenatal care.

It’s not just the babies. The U.S. holds the record for the highest maternal-mortality rate (meaning the death of a woman related to pregnancy or childbirth) of all industrialized countries worldwide. According to the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC), the death rate for black women is 43.5 deaths per 100,000 live births, compared to 12.7 deaths for white women. In other words, black women are three to four times more likely to die from causes related to pregnancy than white women.

The leading causes of death include high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease; In addition, pre-eclampsia, which is an extremely dangerous hypertensive disorder in pregnancy, has been occurring more frequently over the past 20 years. But both pre-eclampsia and eclampsia (seizures that develop in a woman with pre-eclampsia) are a staggering 60 percent more common, and also more severe, in African-American women than white women. 

In New York, the numbers are even more disturbing. Here, black women are 12 times more likely to die from childbirth-related causes as white women.

Why is it that black women and babies in the U.S. have such an alarming birth outcome?

Experts point to a multitude of reasons.

“She is subjected to a lifetime of stressors,” says Arline Geronimus, associate director of the Population Studies Center at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan. Speaking of wealthier black women, she adds, “Being the first generation to graduate, being subject to stereotypes in the classroom or the boardroom, feeling socially excluded – these aren’t just things that make you feel bad, they are stressors that can impact your health.”

Conventional wisdom may point to poverty or a lack of education as the culprits, but the root cause of these disturbing disparities lies in racism.

Villarosa explains it this way: “For black women in America, an inescapable atmosphere of societal and systematic racism can create a kind of toxic physiological stress, resulting in conditions – including hypertension and pre-eclampsia -  that lead directly to higher rates of infant and maternal death.”

There is hope in the future. One of the most promising is New York City’s By My Side Birth Support Program which provides free doula services during pregnancy, labor and delivery for moms in Brooklyn’s predominantly African-American neighborhoods.

As a result of this program, between 2010 and 2015, mothers receiving doula support had half as many preterm births and low-birth-weight babies as other women in the same community.

In Atlanta, Monica Simpson helped create the Black Mamas Matter Alliance in 2015, a coalition of political, social and health experts who are working to bring to light the issues around black women’s reproductive health in the South.

“Racism has many legs and tentacles that are both wide-reaching and deep piercing,” says Simpson. “Unfortunately, pregnant black women are not immune.”

FOCUS: HOPE is an organization in Detroit that has been around for 50 years and has recently started a program teaching women to become doulas for their neighbors. The institution has so far hired and trained doulas who have worked with over 120 women during pregnancy and childbirth.

Another group seeking to create a strong support system is Nurse-Family Partnership, a national organization that provides a free nurse for low-income women expecting their first child. The nurse works with the mom during her pregnancy and stays around until the child’s second birthday. 

These are just a few of the programs designed to shrink the startling disparities between African-American and white women. But black mothers face enormous challenges, which will take a long time to overcome fully.

Mother’s Day should be a day for moms of all races to enjoy. They should not have to fear that the color of their skin could determine whether they live or die.

 

Photo Credit: PublicDomainPictures.net

39 comments

DAVID f
Dave fleming2 months ago

TFS

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Angeles M
Angeles M2 months ago

Thank you

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DAVID fleming
Dave fleming3 months ago

Thanks for sharing

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Angela AWAY K
Angela K3 months ago

Thank you for sharing

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Tania N
Tania N3 months ago

Thank you.

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Tania N
Tania N3 months ago

Thank you.

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Tania N
Tania N3 months ago

Thank you.

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Roxana Saez
Roxana S3 months ago

TYFS

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Janis K
Janis K3 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Jamie Clemons
Jamie Clemons3 months ago

End the poverty and you take care of a lot of these racial problems.

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