*(Los Angeles, CA) — When Great Beginnings for Black Babies was founded in 1990, nearly 19 of each 1,000 Black babies born succumbed to infant mortality.
Generally defined as the death of a baby before its’ first birthday, infant mortality has disproportionately plagued people of African descent since the beginning of enslavement in the Americas.
Initially attributing high infant death rates to poor hygiene and ignorance of enslaved Black women in the late 1880’s, documentation now suggests that “the political economy of slavery itself,” which now manifests as institutionalized racism, may be more at fault.
Most recent studies have shown that African immigrants – those who have migrated to America of their own accord – do not experience the same level of infant mortality or other chronic illnesses as those whose ancestors were brought to the U.S. involuntarily on slave ships. However, just one generation later, their children are experiencing the same type and same disproportionate level of illnesses as those of African descent who are born in America. A big portion of all health problems affiliated with African Americans is attributed to what is now known as racism-related stress.
In fact, maternal anxiety induced by social stressors has come to be known as a significant risk factor for premature birth, low birth weight and shorter gestation periods, which account for more than 60 percent of infant deaths in the United States. At Great Beginnings for Black Babies, we see these stressors in our clients everyday.
With an average 6.3 infant deaths per 1,000 live births, the United States ranks 33rd in the nearly nine million worldwide infant deaths annually. The numbers are skewed by the significantly disproportionate deaths of African American babies with nearly 14 out of 1,000 babies dying before their first birthday, versus six deaths per 1,000 births for Latino babies; five per 1,000 for white babies; and, three per 1,000 for Asian babies.
Troubled over the fact that Black babies still are dying at double, in some cases, triple the rate than any other ethnic group in this country before their first birthday, Great Beginnings for Black Babies, Inc. offers a number of specially designed programs to combat this issue.
Utilizing a variety of innovative, creative and culturally appropriate programs, Great Beginnings has impacted thousands of lives over its 23-year history of service. Its two largest programs, Black Infant Health and Healthy Moms and Babies, specifically target pregnant and/or parenting women with children ages 0-5 years.
Considered GBBB’s flagship program, Black Infant Health (BIH) integrates the client, the community and the healthcare provider to empower women with the necessary tools to make informed healthcare decisions for themselves and their families.
Seeking to improve or eradicate infant mortality, premature births and low birth weights by encouraging early and continuous prenatal care and the embracing of healthy lifestyles devoid of drugs, alcohol or tobacco, BIH services more than 500 pregnant and/or parenting at-risk women each year utilizing interventions that include community outreach, case management, health education, home visitations, social support and empowerment group sessions and resource referrals. BIH was designed to specifically service African American women, ages 18 and older with an infant up to 18 months of age.
Recognizing that others needed similar services but were not qualified under BIH, in 2008 Great Beginnings began offering services through a newly developed Healthy Moms and Babies (HMB) program. Serving upwards to 200 women annually, HMB provides services to pregnant and/or parenting women of all ethnicities and ages, including pregnant or parenting teens. HMB mirrors the services provided through the Black Infant Health program. Its primary difference is that women of all races and ages are served, and they are served until their children reach five years old.
The work of Great Beginnings for Black Babies is extremely significant, but it’s not enough to combat this critical issue where even though the overall numbers of infant deaths are going down, the numbers of Black babies dying still is disproportionately high. More effort and resources need to be put into saving our babies.