African American Babies

African American Babies

It’s a tragic and puzzling truth but truth it is – African American babies have the highest rate of infant mortality in the developed world. Fortunately, a recent theory may be shedding light on this sad and mysterious situation.

Based on statistics for the year 2000, African American babies face a rate of 13.6 deaths per 1,000 births. In the general population, all races combined, the overall infant mortality rate is only about half that for African American babies and, for white babies, the mortality rate is almost one third that of African American babies. Infant mortality rates are based on how many babies do not survive their first year.

Two factors – length of pregnancy and birth weight – are the two biggest factors accountable for infant mortality rates. Any baby born before the 37th week (9.25 months) of pregnancy or weighing less than 2,500 grams (5 pounds, 8 ounces) faces a high risk of developing medical problems, disabilities, even death, within the first year of life. For every ten African American babies born in 2000, one was dangerously underweight and one in five was born early.

Socioeconomic factors have long been thought to be the reasons behind the high rate of death in African American babies but actual studies do not support the theory. Even babies born to highly educated, affluent, healthy African American mothers who received the best possible prenatal care face the same grim statistics.

Doctors are now beginning to explore the connection between the mother’s entire life and its effect on her baby instead of focusing on just her health and lifestyle during pregnancy. African American women face a lifetime of racial discrimination to a much greater degree than all other Americans, including African American men.

The harmful effects of this prolonged stress on the mother’s immune system is now being considered as a vital factor to the mortality rate of African American babies. It is believed that the discriminatory stress felt by the mother compromises her immune system in such a way that a less-than-optimal immune system is passed on to her baby. The mother’s jeopardized immune system is most likely influenced by the same racial discrimination faced by her mother and grandmother and so on for many generations past.

Race alone cannot be considered a factor where the high rate of infant mortalities is concerned. Babies born to mothers who were born in Africa enjoy survival rates much more in keeping with the mortality rate of white babies than those born to African American mothers.

It is expected that standard prenatal care for African American mothers and their babies will be altered to address the critical link between the mother’s stress level over a lifetime, even over generations, and the health and well being of her children.