Racism in the NICU is hurting black infants

Racism in the NICU is hurting black infants

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Black babies placed in neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) tend to receive lower-quality care than white babies, according to a new study. Improving care for these babies could help lower the disproportionately high death rate among African American infants, the authors concluded.

What is contributing to the death of black infants?

For decades, researchers have been trying to figure out why the mortality rate for African American babies is more than double that of white babies, and why black women are more likely than white women to give birth prematurely. Studies have pointed to a variety of factors that could be contributing to this tragedy, including less access to prenatal care among women of color, bias toward African American women in the healthcare system, and the stress of racism impacting black women's health.

The latest study suggests that quality of NICU care may also influence black babies' chances of survival. Researchers reviewed more than 40 studies on the topic and found that black babies – and to a lesser extent Hispanic infants – consistently received lower quality neonatal intensive care than white babies.

Some of these disparities could be explained by the fact that black and Hispanic infants were more likely than white infants to receive NICU care in lower-quality hospitals. But even within hospitals, researchers detected differences in how black and white infants were treated.

Here are some of the disparities they found:

  • More babies died in hospitals where most low-birth-weight babies were black.
  • Hospitals with a large number of black patients were more likely to be understaffed than hospitals with fewer black patients.
  • Low-birth-weight black and Hispanic babies were less likely than white infants to be referred for early intervention.
  • Breastfeeding rates for black and Hispanic babies were lower than for white babies, and black moms reported getting limited breastfeeding support. However, in hospitals with more white moms, breastfeeding rates among all infants improved.
  • Black babies were twice as likely to die from bleeding in the brain (a condition that can happen in premature infants) than white babies.
  • Hispanic babies with the intestinal disease necrotizing enterocolitis were less likely to survive than non-Hispanic babies.

What can be done to curb black infant mortality rates?

Detecting racism and bias in the medical field, and measuring quality of care at hospitals and between patients, is a challenging task. Lead researcher Krista Sigurdson believes there are probably other ways in which babies in the NICU are impacted by racism.

"We can only see what is measured, and therefore we are likely only seeing the tip of the iceberg," she said in a video statement.

While that might sound distressing, there is a ray of hope. If babies of color are dying because of poor quality NICU care, improving that care could help save lives. In a commentary on the study, experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that all hospitals should be required to participate in efforts to improve the quality of care for babies.

Concerned about the quality of care your child is receiving in the neonatal intensive care unit? Here's how to advocate for your preemie in the NICU.

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Watch the video: Racism u0026 Maternal Mental Health (August 2022).

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