Child Health

Tackling Infant Mortality before Conception

For Immediate Release
Thursday, October 12, 2017

For More Information Contact:

Ashon McKenzie, Policy Director 
(614) 221-2244

COLUMBUS – On the heels of a reported increase in Ohio’s infant mortality rate, Children’s Defense Fund-Ohio (CDF-Ohio) has released a new policy brief, Birth Equity – A Pathway Forward. It explores how the psychological, social, and environmental factors that women experience before and during pregnancy drive birth outcomes and could be behind Ohio’s racial gap in infant mortality.

Infant mortality remains an area of deep disparity in Ohio. Black and White infant mortality account for 95.6% of all infant deaths in the state. Ohio’s Black babies are still nearly three times more likely to die before their first birthday than White babies with a Black infant mortality rate of 15.2 per 1000 births and White infant mortality rate of 5.8. Rates for both races rose in 2016, shifting Ohio’s all races infant mortality rate from 7.2 in 2015 to 7.4 in 2016.

“While our state and local safe sleep campaigns have led to some reductions in infant deaths, we are still missing the mark on addressing the leading cause of infant mortality, preterm birth, and the related racial disparity,” says Children’s Defense Fund-Ohio Policy Director, Ashon McKenzie.

Birth outcomes are a complex interplay of biological, behavioral, psychological, social, and environmental factors that women experience both during pregnancy and throughout the course of their lives before pregnancy. The new brief explains how a growing body of evidence point to nonmedical factors, like poverty and physical environments, along with negative experiences across a woman’s life span—adverse childhood experiences, trauma, experiences of racism, and chronic stress—as drivers of racial disparities.

Multiple studies associate experiences of racism with a 1.5 to 3 time increase in the risk of preterm birth. One study found that each traumatic experience a woman faces during her childhood—poverty, abuse, neglect, etc. — decreases her future baby’s birth weight by 16.33 g and shortens gestational age by 0.063 weeks.

“We know experiences of trauma impact every area of life including health and birth outcomes. Ohio’s women of color are encountering a number of adverse experiences at high rates, and the research suggests that addressing this trauma could be a key to improving our birth outcomes for all races,” explains McKenzie.

CDF-Ohio’s brief offers solutions to support women including integrating trauma-informed practices into infant mortality initiatives, adopting trauma-informed community approaches, expanding preconception mental and physical health efforts, and tackling social determinants of health like unsafe housing or poor public transportation systems.

“If we will invest in our communities and expand comprehensive care to women, we can chip away at the racial disparities that persist in our state’s infant mortality rates,” states McKenzie.


The Children’s Defense Fund Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities.