Two weeks ago the news from the Census Bureau that non-white children make up the majority of those under the age of one year created a firestorm of media headlines across the nation. These demographic shifts have many implications for our nation, but my first thought was this: The majority of the babies being born in the US are now at serious risk for a whole host of maternal, fetal, and infant health problems.
Why? Because women of color have significantly higher rates of pre-term birth, low-infant birth weight, maternal, and fetal mortality.
Race-based maternal health disparities are no longer a concern of the minority — they are a concern of the majority. And they should be a top priority. According to Amnesty International’s 2010 report, African American women are four times more likely to die during childbirth than white women, a rate that has not improved in over 20 years. Data from 2008 showed that African American women also had an infant mortality rate that was twice that of white women. While only comprising 16 percent of births, African-American women experienced 30.4 percent of the infant deaths.
Similar statistics and disparities exist for Native American women, Asian Pacific Islanders and Latinas to varying degrees — but with few exceptions, the rates for all these groups are higher than for white women. The United States lags behind 49 other countries in our maternal mortality rates, and 40 other countries in our infant mortality rates, a fact that was reiterated in an article in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine. The piece was a profile of Ina May Gaskin, famous for her work promoting out of hospital birth as a midwife in rural Tennessee. What the article neglected to talk about, however, was maternal health disparities for women of color.