On Maternal and Infant Mortality: Still Much to be Done

Last week, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) released the latest data on infant mortality in New York City.  The infant mortality rate – or the number of deaths before a baby’s first birthday per 1,000 births – is an important measure that can serve as a proxy for a community’s overall health and access to care.  The good news is that in 2016, the infant mortality rate (IMR) in New York City continued its decade-plus long decline to 4.2 infant deaths per 1,000 live births, down from 6.5 in 2003.  In a city with approximately 120,000 births per year, that equates to between 250 and 300 more babies living past their first birthday.

However, despite the positive overall trend, racial/ethnic disparities in IMR remain as prevalent as ever, with black babies being three times more likely to die before their first birthday than white babies, the same as it was in 2003 (the IMR is 2.6 for white babies and 8.0 for black babies).  Disparities are even more pronounced when looking at the data by community district (where the IMR is measured in three-year periods).  During the 2014-2016 period, a baby was 8.5 times more likely to die before their first birthday in East Flatbush in Brooklyn compared to Bay Ridge, just six miles away.  The IMR in East Flatbush is the highest in the city and rose from 6.1 during the 2011-2013 period to 8.5 during the 2014-2016 period.  Pelham Parkway in the Bronx – which has the second highest IMR in the city – has also experienced a significant increase, from 5.0 infant deaths per 1,000 live births during the 2011-2013 period to 7.8 during the 2014-2016 period.

The release of the latest IMR data comes a week after Black Maternal Health Week which saw a series of articles (see here, here, and here) chronicling the issue of black mothers nationwide disproportionately lacking adequate prenatal care, having myriad complications with pregnancy and child birth, and high maternal and infant mortality rates.  As with data on infant mortality, the data for New York City on issues such prenatal care and maternal mortality also reveal worrying disparities, both by race/ethnicity and community district.  For example, black mothers of newborns are over four times more likely to have received late or no prenatal care compared to white mothers.  And black women account for over 40% of deaths due to complications from pregnancy or childbirth.

This data – and much more – can be viewed using Keeping Track Online, CCC’s online data visualization tools with data on hundreds of indicators related to child and family well-being.  Users can explore a series of indicators related to maternal and infant health, from prenatal care to low birth weight to maternal and infant mortality with disaggregation by race/ethnicity and community district and trends over time.  The data reveals that despite positive citywide trends, there is still much work to be done.  We look forward to working with the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and other stakeholders to further explore why such significant disparities persist and what can be done to ensure that all mothers and babies have the resources they need for a healthy pregnancy and child birth and healthy lives.



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