LAKELAND, Fla. — The United States is the only industrialized nation with a rising maternal mortality rate — between 2000 and 2014, there was a 26 percent increase in the maternal mortality rate, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

  • Racial disparities in maternal, infant mortality rates
  • US is only industrialized nation with rising maternal mortality rate
  • Health groups in Polk County trying to figure out why rate is so staggering

ITS researchers call the racial disparities in maternal mortality staggering: Black women are three to four times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related complication than non-Hispanic white women

Several health-oriented groups are joining forces in Polk County to figure out why.

Members held an educational forum at the Lakeland Regional Health Women’s Pavilion Saturday called “Melanin Families Matter.”

According to the Florida Department of Health, black babies are 3.5 times more likely to die in Polk County communities before their first birthday.

Lakeland resident Rica Walker’s son died when he was 8-months-old due to a heart defect and other related complications.

“On Dec. 12, 2004, we took him off the ventilator, and my son died in my arms,“ Walker said.

She called the entire experience traumatic and later decided to create a support group for other families who lost a child.

While her situation is rare, doctors at the forum said co-sleeping is a much bigger contributor to these infant deaths.

“The baby should be in a crib where there are barriers. Not in the bed with the parents. Not where there’s all of those blankets and pillows and all those things, and definitely not with an adult who can roll over on them,” said Dr. Ayanna Rolette, a pediatrician with Lakeside Pediatrics.

Rolette said some other issues leading to infant mortality include mothers smoking marijuana or tobacco while pregnant or around the baby after it’s born.

“I think a lot of it has to do with children who are born with low birth weight. We tend to have that more with mothers who smoke. We tend to have that more if there’s a lot of stress in the mom’s lives. They tend to have the babies early and that makes them more at risk,” Rolette said.

One of the presenters, Dr. Lynn Marshall said she’s heading up a community action group and is passing out surveys to black women in Polk County to figure out what are the contributing factors to these statistics.

“What we’re hoping to find is exactly what the main contributing factor (is) that’s causing our babies to die early, to die period… If we can find out what is the cause, we can hopefully be able to reduce the infant mortality rate as well as the challenges our African American woman face,” said Dr. Lynn Marshall with the Healthy Start Coalition.

Dr. Marshall said she hopes the study will be completed by the end of the year.