pregnant woman reading on couch in Toledo, OhioInfant death continues to be a problem in Ohio. According to the Ohio Department of Health, in 2021, the infant mortality rate rose to 7.0 from 6.7 in 2020 for all races. The rate among Black infants rose to 14.2 in 2021 from 13.6 in 2020. Infant mortality is defined as the death of a live-born baby before his or her first birthday. An infant mortality rate is the number of babies who died during the first year of life per 1,000 live births.

The March of Dimes, which combats premature birth, scored Ohio a D for 2023 and Lucas County a D- for having a pre-mature birth rate above the national average.

But NHA is among those working to change the trend.

Debra Hamilton is the Program Manager for Moms & Babies First, a joint project by the Ohio Department of Health and Neighborhood Health Association. Since 2008, the program has helped hundreds of mothers and infants have a healthier start to life.

“I love being able to walk hand in hand with mom throughout her entire pregnancy to help her have a healthy pregnancy and delivery,” she said.

“Finding out that having a baby can be both exciting and frightening at the same time.

The disparity in infant mortality rates between black and white babies is a complex issue with various contributing factors.

“We face many challenges, but the rewards—the rewards are worth it!!” She said. “Women’s negative attitude to health care, services cost, financial problems, having a long waiting time to care and poor transportation are all prenatal care barriers.”

Some factors that may contribute to this disparity include:

Social Determinants of Health: Black communities often face higher levels of poverty, limited access to quality healthcare, and systemic racism. These social determinants of health can impact maternal and infant well-being.

Access to Prenatal Care: Limited access to prenatal care and educational resources can contribute to adverse birth outcomes. Early and consistent prenatal care is crucial for a healthy pregnancy.

Maternal Health: Disparities in maternal health, including higher rates of chronic conditions and stressors, can impact pregnancy outcomes. Addressing maternal health is essential for improving infant mortality rates.

Discrimination and Stress: Chronic stress resulting from discrimination and systemic racism can negatively affect both maternal and infant health.

Healthcare Disparities: Disparities in the quality of healthcare services and cultural competence within the healthcare system can contribute to negative outcomes.

Public health initiatives, like Moms & Babies First, and community engagement are crucial in addressing the root causes of these disparities and promoting equitable outcomes for all infants.

Each year, the program helps about 100 mothers have a healthier pregnancy and birth. The program focuses on decreasing the African-American maternal and infant mortality rate and empowering family resilience.

“Our main goal is to help mothers know they are not alone,” she said. “Moms and Babies First is here to help!”

Some of the services offered by Moms and Babies First include:

“Nothing is better than getting a photo from a former client with an update on how the family is doing,” Deb said. One such client, “Erika,” had been a homeless woman in her twenties with three children and seven and a half months pregnant. “We played a role in getting her shelter and getting her and her new child through the first year.”

Today, Erika works full-time and is taking college classes.

“Like I said,” the rewards are worth it!”

How can you play a role in the fight against infant mortality in Lucas County?

Everyone in the community plays a crucial role in combatting infant mortality. Here are some actions that you can take to reduce infant mortality:

Community Education: Increase awareness about the importance of prenatal care, healthy pregnancies, and infant safety. Provide educational resources on nutrition, proper prenatal care, and the impact of lifestyle choices on pregnancy outcomes. Tell someone who needs assistance about Moms & Babies First.

Access to Healthcare: Advocate for improved access to quality healthcare services, including prenatal care clinics, maternal health services, and culturally competent healthcare providers. Encourage regular check-ups and early intervention for potential health issues during pregnancy.

Mental Health Support: Address mental health issues by promoting resources for stress management, counseling, and support groups. Mental well-being is crucial for both maternal and infant health.

Parenting Programs: Establish and promote parenting programs that provide guidance on infant care, safe sleep practices, and early childhood development. These programs can empower parents with the knowledge and skills needed for optimal child health.

Community Health Clinics: Support or advocate for community health clinics, like NHA, that offer affordable and accessible healthcare services, including prenatal and postnatal care.

Addressing Social Determinants of Health: Tackle social determinants of health, such as poverty, housing instability, and food insecurity. Work towards community-based solutions that address these underlying issues affecting overall well-being.

Advocacy and Policy Engagement: Engage in advocacy efforts to address systemic issues contributing to health disparities. Advocate for policies that promote equity, address racial inequities, and improve social and economic conditions in the community.

Cultural Competency Training: Encourage healthcare professionals to undergo cultural competency training to ensure that they understand and respect the cultural norms and preferences of the community they serve.

Community Partnerships: Foster collaborations with local healthcare institutions, government agencies, and community organizations to implement targeted interventions and support programs addressing infant mortality.

Community Empowerment: Empower community members to take an active role in their health and well-being. Encourage individuals to seek care, ask questions, and actively participate in programs and initiatives aimed at improving maternal and infant health.

It’s important to approach these efforts with a community-centered and collaborative mindset, involving multiple stakeholders and fostering a supportive environment for all families. By working together, communities can create positive changes that lead to better outcomes for maternal and infant health.

Infant Mortality Fast Fact

In Ohio, Black infants are 2.6x more likely to die before their first birthday than white infants (2021).

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