Better off in a Third World Country

Earlier this week, I posted on another tragic death of an infant linked to co-sleeping. As we are a co-sleeping family, I felt the need to write about this and to defend the practice. In the post, I alluded to the difficulties poor, minority women face but I had no idea how deeply it ran.

Yesterday, I received my issue of “On Wisconsin!” my alumni magazine and I finally got the chance to sit down and flip through it today. Skimming the article, “Baby Steps” an alarming statistic jumped out at me:

In 2004, Wisconsin had the worst African-American infant mortality rate among the thirty-five states that reported deaths by race. That year, 125 black babies died in the first year following birth, a rate of 19.2 deaths per 1,000 births. While the rate has improved slightly since then, the death rate for black babies born in 2006 to 2008 was 15.2 per 1,000 births, compared to 5.9 for white babies.

Essentially, African-American babies born in some urban Wisconsin neighborhoods had a better chance of living if they were born in Jamaica, Sri Lanka or Central America, countries we think of as “third world.”

This sickens and saddens me. I was born in Milwaukee, but my family moved to the suburbs when I was in the 5th grade. We already know that the breastfeeding rates among African-American mothers is lowest than among other races. In fact, according to the CDC in 2005, the following factors influence breastfeeding rates:

Race. Rates of breastfeeding were 81% for Asian Americans, 79% for Hispanics/Latinas, 75% for Whites, 67% for Native Americans, and 59% for African Americans.

Mothers’ age. 50% of women under 20 breastfed, 68% of women between 20 and 29 breastfed, and 77% of women 30 and over breastfed.

Education. 63% of women with less than a high school diploma breastfed, while 84% of college graduates breastfed.

Income. Women living below the federal poverty line breastfed at the rate of 63%, and women living at 350% of the poverty level breastfed at the rate of 82%.

WIC participation. 65% of women receiving WIC subsidies breastfed, while women who were ineligible (due to higher income) breastfed at the rate of 77%.

But other factors remain, factors that have been talked about for years and years. Babies in these neighborhoods are not dying just because they are not breastfeeding, they are dying because the neighborhoods are not healthy places to live. From the article:

While residents might find several hospitals within a few miles, Farrell notes that “medical care is necessary, but not sufficient” — that additional issues such as pollution, poverty, and segregation make Wisconsin’s big cities unhealthy for African-American babies. Even when those factors are accounted for, middle-class, college-educated black women in Wisconsin are still more likely to have babies who die during their first year than white mothers who haven’t finished high school. Research suggests that the stress of racial discrimination and other traumas create biological changes that put both mothers and babies at risk for health problems.

Not only are mothers contending with absentee fathers, poverty, crime, trauma and lack of grocery stores there is the simple fact that getting to the needed medical care can be difficult. One quote from a pediatric cardiologist about her patient just about broke my heart:

But even traveling to her high-risk obstetrics appointments in her hometown was a struggle. She didn’t have a car, she had two children under the age of three at home, and she could only have her mother babysit on the one day of the week that her mother didn’t work. Oh, and the bus that went to the doctor’s office ran just once an hour. “I still have nightmares thinking about that young mother standing there on a cold snow bank in late December, waiting for a 7 a.m. bus to get her to her doctor’s appointment on the very day she delivered her baby,’’

Don’t all mothers deserve better? Here in our country, we debate for hours on end about the validity of everything, from the President’s heritage to health care, from flat-tax to progessive tax but it seems like we are doing a lot of talking but not enough doing. But Milwaukee is trying, although I personally disagree with their argument, especially in light of all of the crib recalls in recent history:

One example of these efforts is the Safe Sleep campaign, launched last winter by the City of Milwaukee Health Department. Billboards — showing adult beds with tombstones as headboards and the words, “For Too Many Babies Last Year, This Was Their Final Resting Place” — are meant to drive home the message that infants are safer sleeping on their backs in their own cribs.

A country is only as strong as it’s weakest members and we are losing far too many babies who represent tomorrow’s fathers, mothers and leaders. In short, and to quote Whitney: “…the children are our future.”

To read the article in it’s entirety, click here
Agree with me? Disagree with me? Tell me what you think! Looking forward to your thoughts!


1 Comment

Filed under breastfeeding, infant mortality, mothering, political, race

One response to “Better off in a Third World Country

  1. Pingback: Seven Quick Takes Friday (Vol. 14) | Caffeinated Catholic Mama

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