Our overall rate is getting worse when compared with other developed countries. In 1960, we were ranked 12th among developed countries in infant mortality. Since then, with its rate largely driven by the deaths of black babies, the United States has fallen behind and now ranks 32nd out of the 35 wealthiest nations. Low birth weight is a key factor in infant death, and a new report released in March by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin suggests that the number of low-birth-weight babies born in the United States — also driven by the data for black babies — has inched up for the first time in a decade. Mothers also die. We are one of only 13 countries in the world where the rate of maternal mortality — the death of a woman related to pregnancy or childbirth up to a year after the end of pregnancy — is now worse than it was 25 years ago. The CDC has found that black women are three to four times as likely to die from pregnancy-related causes as their white counterparts.
The question is why black women are more affected. Medical studies have led experts to believe that the cause is an inescapable atmosphere of societal and systemic racism that creates a kind of toxic physiological stress, resulting in conditions that lead directly to higher rates of infant and maternal death. And that societal racism is further expressed in a pervasive, longstanding racial bias in health care — including the dismissal of legitimate concerns and symptoms — that can help explain poor birth outcomes even in the case of black women with the most advantages.