A recent report released by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention found African-American babies born in Wisconsin die in their infant years at a higher rate than any other state.
With 14.3 deaths per 1,000 babies, the Wisconsin average stood more than three points above the national. The report defined infant mortality rate as the number of infant deaths under 1-years-old per 1,000 live birth.
The disparities between races are not new, but the gap between white and black infant fatalities is alarming, National Center for Health Statistics demographer T.J. Mathews said. The rate is three times as high for black infants compared to white infants.
“We do reports like this to bring public health issues to the attention of Americans,” Mathews said.
Wisconsin also had the highest infant mortality rate for infants born to non-Hispanic black women.
In an effort to close the gap, organizations like the Lifecourse Initiative for Healthy Families look at different aspects of pregnancy, like mental health of African-American mothers to prenatal care.
LIHF partners with the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health Partnership Program to reduce the disparities in birth outcomes between African Americans and whites.
In addition to supporting African-American women and their families, LIHF looks to combat the effects of racism and reduce the black-white disparity in infant mortality.
LIHF operates in southeast Wisconsin and looks at aspects of stress, mental health and father involvement. The initiative breaks down focuses for each area to meet the greatest number of needs, according to the LIHF website.
Factors like infections, poor nutrition and being born too early all play a part in infant mortality for African-American children.The website also mentioned how deadly the effects of racism can be on both mothers and their children.
LIHF focuses on the Milwaukee, Kenosha and Racine areas of Wisconsin where 85 percent of African American births take place, LIHF director Gina Green-Harris said. Milwaukee focuses on how to prevent premature births, Kenosha hones in on mental health and prenatal care and the Racine area looks at the benefit of breastfeeding.
“While we focus on healthy babies and moms, we also know it’s not just the result of nine months of pregnancy, but the entire lifespan leading up to her pregnancy and what does that look like,” Green-Harris said.
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In areas like Milwaukee, 60 percent of all infant deaths are due to prematurity and 20 percent are due to birth defects, according to the Milwaukee Health Department.
These numbers show how much work Wisconsin has to do in the areas that affect most of the black population, Mathews said. Both LIHF and the cities the initiative works with are trying to educate their populations on actions that can be taken to prevent infant mortality.
Campaigns such as the Safe Sleep Campaign or the Strong Babies Campaign look to teach safe sleeping practices with infants and how nutrition plays a role in the developing child.
LIHF works with these campaigns to bring awareness to the issues surrounding infant mortality. LIHF also looks to reduce life stressors for African-American mothers and finding affordable health care for families, Green-Harris said.
“I want to give hope to the communities when they see the statistics — yes, the numbers are very alarming — but we are being proactive to address this issue in our communities,” Green-Harris.