Understanding the impact of health disparities on infant mortality

September 8, 2021

After months of anticipation, just the thought of losing your baby is heartbreaking. But, sadly, it can happen.

Each September, March of Dimes and other organizations work together to raise awareness about infant mortality. Infant mortality is the death of a baby before their first birthday. The most common causes of infant death are birth defects, preterm birth, and pregnancy complications, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (also called the CDC). These conditions can be caused by a variety of factors, including health disparities.

What are health disparities?

Health disparities are differences in health outcomes for different groups of people. These differences are connected to social, economic, and environmental factors. Some health disparities are caused by unfair and unjust causes that influence a person’s health. They can contribute to a person’s health problems throughout their life. Health disparities can affect your health and the care you get to keep yourself healthy. In the United States, the health of most Americans has improved over the last 30 years. However, this has not been the case for all groups.

Health disparities affect some groups of people more than others. This includes historically disadvantaged groups such as:

  • Black people or African-Americans
  • Latino and Hispanic people
  • People of Asian or Pacific Island descent
  • Native American/Alaska Native people
  • People who have a lower socioeconomic status
  • People who are part of the LGBTQ+ community

How do health disparities affect pregnancy?

Health disparities impact different areas of health. For example, some groups of people are more likely than others to have chronic health conditions, such as diabetes or high blood pressure. Some groups may be more likely than others not to get good quality health care and access to treatments that prevent illness, such as vaccinations.

Health disparities also happen in conditions related to pregnancy. For example, different groups of women are more likely than others to be affected by:

Sadly, Black babies are more than twice as likely as White babies to die before their first birthdays. And, women of color are up to 50 percent more likely to give birth prematurely, which can impact infant mortality.

What can we do about health disparities?

March of Dimes is committed to eliminating health disparities to help all pregnant people have healthy pregnancies and healthy babies. We’re focusing on these areas:

  • Advocacy. March of Dimes influences state and local governments to affect laws and programs that help pregnant people and their families get health care and other services.
  • Awareness. March of Dimes wants everyone to know about the problems that affect pregnant people and their babies. The more people who know, the better chance we have to work together to make changes that improve the lives of families in every community.
  • Research. March of Dimes funds research to discover causes of preterm birth, birth defects, pregnancy-related death and infant death. Understanding causes helps us identify treatments and prevention that can help save lives.
  • Data collection. March of Dimes supports national data collection programs. These programs help us understand where problems like pregnancy-related and infant death are happening most and whom they most affect. This helps us know where to focus prevention and treatment to make the biggest impact. It also helps us understand how social determinants of health may play a role in disparities.
  • Prenatal education. Our Supportive Pregnancy Care (SPC) program offers prenatal care and education to pregnant people in a group. Research shows that this kind of care has benefits over traditional one-to-one prenatal care from a health care provider. March of Dimes is working to launch SPC programs throughout the country to help give pregnant people the healthiest possible pregnancy.
  • Access to care. We are expanding access to maternal and baby care in the U.S. through programs that focus on families living in maternity care deserts, families who have a baby in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and through the Mom and Baby COVID-19 Intervention and Support Fund. We’re working to make sure every mom and baby have the health care they need, no matter their wealth, race, gender or where they live.

Unfortunately, not all causes of infant mortality can be prevented. But having a healthy pregnancy may increase the chance of having a healthy baby. Getting early and regular prenatal care during pregnancy is an important step in having a healthy pregnancy.

  • 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.