Often, when we talk about the impacts of stress and trauma, we talk about its effects on diseases, such as diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease. Research is also emerging that shows stress and trauma have a particular impact on the health of babies and moms, especially Black moms and babies.
The data in the St. Louis region is alarmingly clear. In our region, 5 children die before celebrating their first birthday. 32 babies are born too small and 46 babies are born too early. Most disturbingly, our black babies are 3 times more likely to die than their white counterparts. The story is not better for our moms. While we are making great strides in so many areas of health, the maternal mortality rate in the United States is actually rising. That’s right. More moms are dying each year during and immediately after pregnancy. Recent research from the Centers for Disease Control is showing that Black moms are 243% more likely to die from pregnancy or childbirth-related causes than White moms. It is unconscionable that in 2017, we still live with differences in health outcomes like these.
We know that we can’t talk about improving the health of our babies without talking about improving the health of our moms. We also cannot talk about these issues, their causes, and the solutions without talking about a root cause—racism, and the trauma it creates. The kind of trauma and toxic stress created by racism is experienced as a constant threat, and over time, exposure to those levels of stress are leading to biological changes that can lead to babies being born too soon.
I believe it is no coincidence that we see the impact of our biggest problems on our smallest community members. Thankfully, there are paths forward. FLOURISH: The Initiative for Healthy Babies and Families has outlined one such path for our community and has named key priority areas for our region to start to shift these negative outcomes and the disparities within them. They highlight the importance of access to education and living-wage jobs, addressing the impact of stress, quality neighborhoods and housing, and access to healthy foods and quality healthcare. These are big issues, but as we know, the answers to our greatest problems are never small or simple.
We all have a role to play in making St. Louis alive and well, and working to address infant and maternal mortality is a key part of that. If you want to learn more about the work of FLOURISH, visit www.flourishstlouis.org. If you want to learn more about how to get involved with Alive and Well STL, visit www.aliveandwellstl.com. I hope you will join us in this movement to make our community a healthier and more supportive place to live.
By Joe Yancey
Chair of the Community Advisory Board of the St. Louis Regional Health Commission
Executive Director of Places for People