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Addressing the Health Crisis of Black Maternal Death and Infant Mortality

University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children'sExperts in Children's Health

woman holding baby in hospital hallThe infant mortality rate in the United States is a crisis that has gained much attention in recent years: the United States ranks 32nd out of the 35 wealthiest nations for infant mortality, and in Cleveland, infants are dying at a rate similar to many third-world countries.

But another health crisis closely linked to infant mortality is the maternal mortality rate. While the rates of pregnancy-related deaths in other developed nations have either remained flat or dropped, the maternal mortality rate in the United States is worse now than it was 25 years ago.

Each year, an estimated 700 to 900 maternal deaths occur in the United States. Leading causes of pregnancy-related death – a large proportion of which are preventable – include heart conditions, infections, hemorrhage, hypertension-related diseases, blood clots and stroke.

Racial Disparities in Health Care

Race disparity is a key factor in both infant and maternal death. In Ohio, the black infant mortality rate in 2015 was 2.6 times the rate for white babies, and black women in the United States are three times as likely to die from pregnancy-related causes as their white counterparts. This disparity exists without regard to the socioeconomic or educational background of the mother.

“Black women are more likely to die from childbirth and complications related to pregnancy,” says Da’Na Langford, CNM, a Certified Nurse Midwife and Chair of University Hospitals MacDonald Women’s Hospital Maternal and Infant Mortality Committee. “We need to recognize that this problem is related to structural and institutional racism. We have to name the problem as a community, look at our own biases, and do something to make real change to save babies and mothers.”

How We are Addressing the Crisis

University Hospitals is working with other community partners to make measurable change in both infant and maternal mortality in the Greater Cleveland region. Some of our initiatives include:

  • CenteringPregnancy®: This evidence-based program brings together small groups of pregnant women to learn together and support each other. During each session, the women are seen individually by a provider, then gather together to learn about a variety of topics, including labor and birth, newborn care, and breastfeeding.

    “A lot of our patients do not have a support system,” Langford says. “CenteringPregnancy gives them a support system with a provider, and other women having the same experience.”

    Since its inception in 2010, the program has proven to be successful; participants experience a decrease in preterm birth rates, low birth weight and postpartum depression.

  • First Year Cleveland: UH is an active stakeholder in this collaboration of Cleveland-area health organizations, government leaders, local advocates and others dedicated to reducing the city's infant mortality rate, and committed to ensuring that every baby born in Cuyahoga County will celebrate their first birthday.

    First Year Cleveland’s priorities are:
    • Reduce racial disparities
    • Address extreme prematurity
    • Eliminate preventable sleep-related infant deaths
  • The UH Rainbow Center for Women & Children: Our new state-of-the-art center in Midtown Cleveland brings the necessary care to mothers and children in the community.

    “UH Rainbow Center is a wrap-around care center, which allows women and children in the community to get all of the health services they need under one roof,” Langford says. 

    Services include women’s health, pediatrics, nutrition, vision and dentistry, and an onsite pharmacy. Community members also have access to social services and educational support, including legal aid, WIC office, and childbirth and parenting classes.

Langford says UH and other local organizations are committed to reaching out to the community to improve the health and outcomes for pregnant women and their babies.

“All of these programs show the community we stand with them, and we will tackle this health crisis together.”

Related Links

UH Rainbow Center for Women & Children
UH Pregnancy & Childbirth and Nurse-Midwifery Services

April 11-17 is Black Maternal Health Week, held during National Minority Health Month. Led by the Black Mamas Matter Alliance, this campaign is focused on awareness, advocacy and addressing racial disparities in maternal and infant health.