First 5 LA Addresses the African-American Infant Mortality Crisis
Compared to white infants in Los Angeles County, three times as many African-American infants die within their first year. Nationally, African-American women are 243% more likely to die during pregnancy, childbirth and the postpartum period than other women.
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), exposure to stress is longer and more frequent for black women than for others. The stress of early adverse childhood experiences (ACES) contributes significantly to risks for physical illness later in life, including diabetes, heart disease and gynecological issues – all of which can hurt reproductive health. While higher infant and maternal mortality among black women was once tied to inadequate healthcare and higher rates of cigarette smoking, research from the L.A. County Department of Health (DPH) indicates that it is now viewed as a health implication of racism.
To combat this crisis, First 5 LA has joined other leading organizations nationwide in hosting a member of the Pritzker Children’s Initiative Fellows Program to implement local solutions with potentially national applications. Partnering with DPH, First 5 LA has named Melissa Franklin a Pritzker Fellow. With more than 20 years of experience in supporting community initiatives and mission-driven organizations, Franklin’s primary focus is on reducing maternal stress in Los Angeles County.
An African-American mother living in South Los Angeles, Franklin has given birth to two micro preemie babies. She believes her own experiences inform her understanding of the new role’s challenges. “Creating awareness of this issue, engaging the community and aligning with other groups’ efforts address the disparity that exists,” says Franklin. “The stress of racism and implicit bias has an impact on black women’s bodies. Helping moms, moms-to-be and grandmas understand and address the issue and get the support they need can help effect change.”