Why are stillbirths so high among black women?

Written by by Staff Writer

Most new mothers can appreciate the joy of a baby arriving at their hospital door.

And even though pregnancy often carries a host of challenges, a majority of women give birth normally — yet approximately 20% of women will still experience a stillbirth or miscarriage.

That number is particularly concerning because mothers that experience a stillbirth are five times more likely to experience another pregnancy loss than those who do not, according to a new analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The problem appears to be particularly severe in black women, the authors say.

About 1 in every 1,650 babies born to black women who have ever been pregnant also dies during pregnancy or childbirth, compared to about 1 in 700 babies born to white women who have ever been pregnant, the CDC reports.

Overall, there were 129,301 stillbirths in 2014 in the United States, the most recent year for which there is publically available data. And since stillbirth rates have not gone down over the last three decades, investigators say the problem is growing.

Researchers from the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics used data from 17,935 mothers, roughly 5% of whom experienced a stillbirth during pregnancy.

The researchers found that the rate of maternal stillbirth during pregnancy increased dramatically over the past 30 years, from 1.33 per 1,000 live births in 1985 to 1.93 per 1,000 live births in 2014.

They also found a sharp trend in black women having fewer pregnancies, and most often losing their first.

Even though the mortality rate for black women who had a stillbirth is higher than for white women, there is still a disparity between how women of different races react to the death of a baby, the researchers said.

The difference in maternal experience is simply more common among black women. This may be because they live in poverty, or have other socioeconomic disadvantages.

Dr. Renee Grossman, author of a report detailing the findings, noted that the individual death of a newborn is shocking, but “more often these infants just don’t make it.”

She added, “African-American women are substantially more likely to lose their first pregnancy; and therefore have a better sense of how that pregnancy ended.”

While black women were five times more likely to experience a stillbirth, they were also eight times more likely to lose their first pregnancy, the report found.

Due to higher poverty rates and poorer access to doctors, clinics and support systems, researchers believe, this may partly explain the disparity.

The researchers also suggest one possible explanation could be the lack of physicians that are trained to deal with the needs of black patients.

Another possible explanation, they say, could be racism.

“Racial prejudice may not always manifest in overt discrimination but may be cultural in nature. Also, greater access to safe, affordable and quality abortion services may play a role,” they wrote.

After the stillbirth, many of the women were rehospitalized for complications — a common issue for health-care providers. And some of the women had mental health issues, the report said.

During a news conference Tuesday, Grossman said the study should “stimulate” health-care workers to teach additional training and provide support for their patients.

“It’s these women that are going to be the future leaders and the success of this country. We want to ensure that they have the care they need and that the things that can affect their own health and their children’s health are addressed for them,” she said.

She added that “The fact that this happens to African-American women so often and at such a high rate” also highlights the need for more medical and social services.

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