Lamaze International initiated an in-depth look into Hispanic infant mortality in the United States, along with that of other ethnicities, including non-Hispanic blacks. According to the organization, infant mortality numbers among minorities—while declining—are still concerning.
The Department of Health and Human Services determined that infant mortality rates among Puerto Ricans are 30 percent higher than among non-Hispanic whites, and Puerto Rican babies are twice as likely to die from low birth weight compared to non-Hispanic white infants. Mexican American moms are also twice as likely not to get any prenatal care.
“Of all the subgroups, low birth weight is the leading cause of infant death among Puerto Rican American women,” Tara Owens Shuler, MEd, LCCE, FACCE, President of Lamaze International and Director of the Duke University AHEC Lamaze Childbirth Educator Program, told Saludify.“This is similar to the leading cause of infant death reported for African American women.
“The reasons for health disparities remain largely unexplained for ethnic groups; however, some researchers believe factors like education, occupation and geography can explain some of the differences and similarities.”
Shuler added Puerto Rican women are reportedly more likely to be overweight or obese, and they tend to live in cities that face more environmental stresses. Each of these are contributing factors to low birth weight babies.
According to the March of Dimes, low birth weight refers to a baby weighing less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces. These babies are prone to serious health issues later in life, including high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease.
The overall health of a mother is essential to preventing a low birth weight, and maternal health may be one of the reasons for the infant mortality disparity seen in Puerto Ricans. Poverty, limited prenatal care, language barriers, cultural barriers, and lack of transportation can all potentially impact a mother’s health negatively.
“The health of the mother is critical when it comes to overall pregnancy and infant health,” said Shuler. “Hispanic mothers overall are twice as likely to begin prenatal care in the third trimester or not receive prenatal care at all. So, greater efforts must be made to get Puerto Rican American women to engage in prenatal care earlier on in their pregnancy. This can be accomplished by reaching this population with education prior to pregnancy.”
Low birth weight among Hispanic women’s babies can also be a result of untreated chronic health conditions such as kidney issues, lung issues, heart disease, diabetes, or high blood pressure. Infections, alcohol abuse, smoking, and drug use will also contribute to an infant’s low birth weight.
Addressing Puerto Rican infant mortality
For Hispanic women, not just Puerto Ricans, prenatal care is the most important step toward reducing infant mortality numbers.
Maria ines Robayo, public health educator from Lamaze International, told Saludify, “The purpose of prenatal care is to monitor the progress of the pregnancy, identify potential problems before they get serious and have an idea of the baby’s official birthday. It also helps monitor the baby’s overall health and weight. Some Latino women, however, do not understand the importance of prenatal care.”
She recommends the following advice for mothers to ensure a healthy pregnancy:
• Have their first prenatal visit during the first trimester, ideally at 6 to 8 weeks of pregnancy.
• Talk to a care provider about how much weight gain is to be expected, and how to maintain a balanced and nutritious diet.
• Take multivitamins and reach a normal body mass index of 19 – 25.
• Avoid alcohol, smoking and drugs.
• Space multiple pregnancies correctly, about 18 months to five years between delivery and the start of the next pregnancy, if possible.
• Learn more about family planning options.
• Understand the consequences of depression and domestic violence for both the mother and baby during pregnancy.