Despite Improvement, Milwaukee's Black & White Infant Mortality Gap Remains
Fewer babies died last year in Milwaukee than the previous year, but city leaders aren’t yet ready to celebrate. Infant mortality remains troubling, especially among African Americans babies.
84 infants died prior to their first birthday last year across Milwaukee. Black babies died at nearly three times the rate of white babies.
Health Commissioner Bevan Baker says the number one reason might surprise people. “Prematurity is the leading cause of death,” he says.
Baker says often times, people focus on baby deaths caused by co-sleeping, while overlooking the bigger, more complex problems.
“We tend to focus on those things that are concrete. I mean one can wrap their head around the fact that there was an unfortunate rollover. But one cannot look inside of what happens and the marvel of prematurity and low birthweights and those types of things. Scientists are still trying to wrap their heads around that, and I think that’s where more work needs to be done,” Baker says.
A list of issues can lead to babies being born prematurely. Doctor Carla Kelly is chief of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Aurora Sinai.
“We know that obesity is an epidemic, and as our population gets more obese there’s higher risks for diabetes and for hypertension and for asthma. Those go along with obesity,” Kelly says.
Kelly says stress also plays a major role in babies born before term. She says Aurora Sinai is working to ensure women get care as soon as they think they’re pregnant.
“We’re trying to get patients in earlier for prenatal care. We’re trying to decrease our wait times so we can get people in for their first prenatal visit earlier. We are looking at screening for hypertension and diabetes at the first prenatal visit. A lot of these patients haven’t gotten any health care prior to their first prenatal visit,” Kelly says.
Some women may not even consider prenatal care, according to Amy Lindner. She’s president and CEO of Meta House, a drug and alcohol treatment center.
“It’s not just things like will my doctor take Medicaid? Its things like do I know that I’m supposed to go to the doctor and how frequently I’m supposed to go and do I have a bus pass or a ride or another way to get there. Is there something else going on in my life that makes me fearful of going to a doctor? Have I perhaps been drinking or perhaps smoking marijuana,” Lindner says.
This year, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett launched the Strong Baby Sanctuary Initiative. It encourages churches to serve as places where pregnant women and new families can connect with vital services.