Although national infant mortality rates had declined to a record low in 2020, in the state of Kansas, they increased by 19%; specifically for Black babies, it increased to an alarming 58%.
With these numbers, the infant mortality rate for Black infants is 3.5 times higher compared to the rate for white infants.
Although this disparity is not as severe in other states, there is still a stark difference in the infant mortality rates between white and Black babies, who have a mortality rate that is more than double the rate for white babies.
Experts state that the origins of these severe disparities are found in racism that disproportionately affects Black communities. Compared to the infant mortality rates of white and Latino babies, which are most commonly caused by birth defects, Black infant deaths are more often caused by complications from premature birth and being underweight.
"The rate of preterm birth is usually about double, consistently, over decades in the U.S. in Black communities", says Dawn Misra, a professor at Michigan State University who studies adverse birth outcomes among Black families. "And even as we've seen the preterm birth rate go down, the disparity remains."
Because systemic racism adversely affects virtually every facet of the lives of Black people in the U.S., such as segregation of housing, food insecurity, and racial violence, it affects neighborhood environments in which Black babies are raised.
Infant health workers in Kansas are trying to combat these health disparities by teaching pregnant Black women about the statistics of infant mortality and providing the necessary resources so they can give birth to healthy children. Peggy Jones-Foxx, a licensed practical nurse and president of the Wichita Black Nurses Association, provides educational sessions for Black mothers at the Dellrose United Methodist Church in Wichita. During these sessions, she coaches mothers on how to manage stress and advocate for themselves to doctors.
"Sometimes that can be pretty intimidating because we're all a little shy when it comes to professionals," she tells her class. "They ask if you have any questions as they're already walking out the door — but that's your time to ask those questions that may be weighing on you."