The Western New York 21-Day Racial Equity Challenge Day 12

day 12: racial disparities in birth outcomes

Racial inequities begin before birth and continue throughout the lifespan, putting children at a disadvantage to meet their full potential right from the very start. In Erie County, children born to black mothers are almost twice as likely to be born prematurely and more than twice as likely to die in the first year of life.

This Challenge has previously touched on how households of color are more likely to not be able to meet basic needs. Pregnant women who do not have their basic needs met and are undereducated on available resources face considerable barriers to accessing prenatal care.

Inadequate prenatal care is a significant risk factor for premature birth. Local analysis on 2013-2015 birth data provided by Jim Shelton, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University at Buffalo showed that women receiving inadequate prenatal care are 1.5 times as likely to experience premature birth, and those receiving no prenatal care are 5.5 times as likely. Women experiencing financial hardship face unique challenges to obtaining appropriate prenatal care.

America is the most dangerous wealthy country in the world to give birth. This is, in part, due to the dramatic racial disparities in maternal and infant mortality. Toxic stress and bias in medical care mean that women of color are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications. Racism is a public health crisis and it is time to treat it as such.


During 2015-2017 (average) in Erie County, preterm birth rates were highest for Black infants (13.5%), followed by Hispanics (11.1%), American Indian/Alaska Natives (10.5%), Asian/Pacific Islanders (9.2%) and whites (8.6%). In Niagara County, preterm birth rates were highest for Black infants (16%), followed by Hispanic (9.2%), Asian/Pacific Islanders (5.1%) and whites (8.4%). Other counties in WNY have similar disparities.

• Black infants (13.5%) were about 2 times as likely as white infants (8.6%) to be born preterm during 2015-2017 (average).
• In the United States, prematurity/low birthweight is the second leading cause of all infant deaths (during the first year of life) and the leading cause of infant death among black infants.
Source: National Center for Health Statistics, period linked birth/infant death data


  1. Read about how COVID-19 Deepens Maternal Health Disparities Among Women Of Color (3 minutes)
  2. Watch this PBS video “Why are black mothers and infants far more likely to die in U.S. from pregnancy-related causes?” (10 minutes)
  3. Read about how amid staggering maternal and infant mortality rates, Native communities are reviving traditional support concepts. (10 minutes)


DAY 13: Early Childhood


Back to Day 11

Back to Pre-Challenge