Marion County’s Black Infant Mortality Rate was a Record Low in 2019

Published on 22 October 2020 00:00

October 22, 2020

Overall Rate Improved

INDIANAPOLIS – TheThe Marion County Public Health Department reports that the overall infant mortality rate improved in 2019 from the previous year, and the rate among Blacks in Marion County was the lowest ever. 

Infant mortality is defined as baby who dies before his or her first birthday. 

For 2019, the overall infant mortality rate in Marion County was 8.8 deaths per 1000 live births. This number is slightly lower than the overall rate of 9.2 in 2018, and more than 2 points higher than the 2020 Healthy People goal of 6.0 per 1,000 live births. 

The Black infant mortality rate in Marion County for 2019 was 10.9 deaths per 1000 live births, a significant drop from 14.0 in 2018 and is the lowest ever. In 1984, Marion County’s Black infant mortality rate reached 24.6 deaths per 1000 live births, ranking it the highest among the 22 major U.S. cities with populations over 500,000. 

Top causes of infant mortality are low birth weight, premature birth, and birth defects. Contributors to these causes include maternal smoking, lack of adequate prenatal care, lack of folic acid, and alcohol use. 

The infant mortality rate among Hispanics in Marion County for 2019 was 7.6 per 1000 live births, and the rate for whites was 7.5. 

“We have made some substantial gains in reducing the infant mortality rates, but have to continue to address the new challenges generated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Virginia A. Caine, M.D., director and chief medical officer of the Marion County Public Health Department. “Pregnant women now face a variety of challenges with food insecurity, nutrition, housing evictions, environmental stresses and other barriers. We must provide assistance to our pregnant mothers on how to navigate newly formed resources.” 

One key resource used to address infant mortality locally is Indianapolis Healthy Start, a program of the Marion County Public Health Department. With funding from a federal grant for the past 20 years, Indianapolis Healthy Start provides education, referral and support services to pregnant women and their families in an effort to eliminate the disparities in birth outcomes and improve infant survival rates in Marion County. 

“This is promising news, a result of our citywide commitment to prevent infant deaths and address racial disparities in infant mortality,” said Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett. “We must continue to focus on ensuring access to comprehensive, affordable, high quality health care as it is critical to eliminating racial disparities and protecting our mothers and children.” 

Data for Marion County shows that Hispanics initiate breastfeeding at a higher rate (87%) compared to white mothers (81%) and Black mothers (75%). Maternal smoking was highest among white women (13%) compared to Black women (8%) and Hispanic women (2%). The percentage of mothers who began prenatal care in the first trimester is 75% for white women, 53% for Black women, and 44% for Hispanic women. 

The benefits of breastfeeding for mothers include lowering the risk of breast and ovarian cancer, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. For infants, the benefits include lowering the risk of asthma, obesity, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), ear and respiratory problems, and type 2 diabetes. 

Smoking during pregnancy increases the risk of stroke and heart disease for the mother, while placing the baby at risk for low birth weight and prematurity (birth before 37 weeks of gestation), and other long-term health problems. 

Prenatal care during the first three months of pregnancy is associated with many benefits for mom and baby, including better birth outcomes. “Nationally, African Americans have the highest infant mortality rate of any racial or ethnic group,” said Paul Babcock, interim president and CEO of the Health and Hospital Corporation of Marion County. “In the U.S., the death rate for Black infants is twice that of infants born to non-Hispanic white mothers. Policy makers and health care providers must work together to provide assistance to pregnant mothers to eliminate disparities that exist.” 

“In addition to the programs and services it offers, the Marion County Public Health Department also works as part of the Indianapolis Healthy Baby consortium,” said Yvonne Beasley, director of Maternal & Child Health at the Marion County Public Health Department. “This community-based effort is dedicated to improving birth outcomes and reducing the number of babies who die before their first birthday. Solutions are sought through advocacy, innovative initiatives and policy development.”


Curt Brantingham
317-221-2316 │ 317-525-7450