Health disparities contribute to pregnancy and infant loss

October 15, 2021

Loss affects families every day, in many different ways.

October 15 is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day, a day dedicated to recognizing and supporting families who have lost a baby. The loss of a baby is one of the most painful experiences that can happen to anyone.

If your baby died during pregnancy or in the first days of life, you and your family might need help understanding what happened. Miscarriage, stillbirth and other conditions can cause a pregnancy to end before or during birth. Newborn death can be caused by preterm birth, birth defects and other health conditions. Pregnancy and infant loss also happens more often among those groups who experience health disparities.

What are health disparities?

A health disparity is a difference between the health of one group of people compared with the health of another group that has more advantages. The causes of health disparities are complicated. Health differences may be linked to a disadvantage caused by your income, work status, or environment.

Health disparities can mean that certain groups of people:

  • Are at higher risk for certain health problems
  • Are at higher risk for dying from certain health problems
  • Have more trouble staying healthy
  • Have more trouble getting health care services

Does pregnancy and infant loss affect some groups more than others?

Some racial and ethnic groups experience pregnancy and infant loss more than others.. According to research studies:

  • Black moms are nearly twice as likely to have a miscarriage than White moms.
  • American Indian/Alaska Native and non-Hispanic Black babies are more than twice as likely to die from sudden infant death syndrome (also called SIDS) than non-Hispanic White babies.
  • Black moms are more than twice as likely to experience stillbirth than Hispanic and white moms.
  • Babies born to Puerto Rican moms are more than twice as likely to die from complications during pregnancy than babies born to White moms.
  • Health problems during pregnancy or underlying health conditions were listed as the cause of the stillbirth three times more often for Black moms than white moms.

There are many reasons for these disparities. Access to and use of health care services before and during pregnancy is one reason. However, more research is needed to understand the other reasons.

Life After Loss

If you’ve lost a baby, you may be overwhelmed by your feelings of loss.  Certain things, like hearing names you were thinking of for your baby or seeing the baby’s nursery at home, may be painful reminders of your loss. Your body’s physical recovery also may remind you of your baby, like if your breast milk comes in after a stillbirth.

You may grieve for your baby for a long time, maybe even your whole life. There’s no right amount of time to grieve.

Who can help you and your family deal with grief?

Talking about your baby and your feelings can be helpful and comforting. You can talk to your partner, your friends and your family. Talking to someone who’s trained to help you deal with grief may be helpful, too. For example:

  • Your provider. Your provider may be able to help you understand what happened to cause your baby’s death. They also can find people to help you through your grief, like a social worker or grief counselor. And, if you’re ready, they can help you get ready to get pregnant again. If you feel intense sadness for a long time, your provider can help you get treatment for depression. 
  • A social worker. This is a mental health professional who helps people solve problems and make their lives better. A social worker can help you deal with your grief. They also can help with things like medical, insurance and funeral bills. Your hospital may have a social worker on staff.
  • A grief counselor. This is someone who’s trained to help people deal with grief.
  • Your religious or spiritual leader. Your religious and spiritual beliefs may be a comfort to you as you grieve.
  • You may want to join a support or bereavement group. They meet to share their feelings and try to help each other. There are support and bereavement groups just for parents and families who have lost a baby. Group members understand what you're going through and can help you feel like you’re not alone. Your provider, social worker or grief counselor can help you find a group, or your hospital may have a group as part of a loss and grief program for families. You can find groups online, too.

How can you take care of yourself as you grieve?

Your body needs time to recover after pregnancy. You may need more time depending on how far along you are when your pregnancy ends. Here’s what you can do to take care of yourself: 

  • Eat healthy food, like fruits and vegetables, whole-grain breads and pastas, and low-fat chicken and meats.
  • Do something active every day.
  • Try to stick to a sleep schedule. Get up and go to bed at your usual times.
  • Don’t drink alcohol and drinks with caffeine in them, like coffee, sports drinks, tea and soda.
  • Don’t smoke and stay away from secondhand and thirdhand smoke.
  • Talk to your provider if you have bleeding from your vagina or if your breasts have milk
  • Tell your provider if you have intense feelings of sadness that last more than 2 weeks that prevent you from leading your normal life.

You also can do special things to remember your baby, even if didn’t have a chance to see, touch or hold them. Your health care provider can help you find resources for dealing with your grief, such as grief counseling or support groups.

  • Visit Share Your Story®, our online community where families who have lost a baby can talk to and comfort each other. Sharing your family’s story may ease your pain and help you heal.
  • Visit our new Wall of Remembrance, a space for parents and loved ones living with loss to pay tribute and share their story.