Black mothers and babies deserve better odds at life

Modern prevention efforts have been effective among white, Hispanic and Asian mothers, but one thing is clear: Black mothers need help catching up to these lifesaving advancements.

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File photo of a woman visiting her newborn baby at a nursery in April 2020.

File photo of a woman visiting her newborn baby at a nursery in April 2020.

Ezequiel Becerra/AFP via Getty Images

A new federal study has found yet more evidence of the racial health disparities that are all too common in our country: Black infants in 2020 had the highest rates of sudden infant deaths in the country — three times the rate of white infants.

The study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also found that sudden infant deaths among babies of all races increased 15% between 2019 and 2020. While the study’s authors are calling for more research, they suggest that the pandemic, which had disproportionate impact on health, housing, food insecurity and other stressors in the Black community, may have played a role in the racial disparities in infant deaths, according to the Washington Post.

The study will be published in April in the journal Pediatrics.

Here in our state, the evidence is also clear in a December 2020 report by the Illinois Department of Public Health’s Office of Women’s Health and Family Services: If the fetal and infant mortality rate of babies of Black women and white women were the same, more than 200 Black fetal and infant deaths would be prevented each year.

The report, which examined infant deaths between 2000 and 2018, found that as the numbers of infant deaths decreased, racial inequities remained. The infant mortality rate declined among white and Hispanic infants during that time, but for Black infants, the decline only lasted until 2008 — and since then, has remained unchanged.



Clearly, Black maternal and infant health must be a priority for researchers and practitioners. Lawmakers as well must be held accountable for shoring up — not tearing down — public health and safety net programs that can protect the health and well-being of moms and infants, such as Medicaid, SNAP and other assistance.

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In 2000, white infants in Illinois had a mortality rate of 6 per 1,000 live births. By 2018, the number declined to 5 per 1,000. Among Hispanic infants, the mortality rate fell from 7.4 per 1,000 live births in 2000 to 5.3 per 1,000 in 2018. The mortality rate for Asian babies declined from 5.1 per 1,000 live births in 2000 to 3.7 per 1,000 in 2018.

But for Black infants, the mortality rate was a shocking 15.9 per 1,000 live births in 2000 — and in 2018, it remained far higher than among other racial groups, at 13.7 per 1,000.

Black mothers and babies deserve better odds.

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