Cleveland, Ohio (April 14, 2024) For decades, babies born in Cuyahoga County have been dying at some of the highest rates in the country. This is especially true for Black babies, who are three times more likely than white babies to die before they turn a year old.

Healthy babies start with healthy moms, and there is a substantial body of research showing that, in Ohio and across the United States, we are failing to give those moms — especially Black moms —even the most basic of care.

Our current system is not working. Maternal mortality rates have more than doubled in the last 20 years, a recent study showed. Women in the U.S. are about 10 times more likely to die during childbirth or in the 42 days following childbirth than women in other high-income countries, including Australia, Japan and Spain — and the rates disproportionately affect Black women, who in the U.S. are three to four times more likely than white women to die during or shortly after childbirth. In Ohio, the rates are even worse: Black women here are more than five times as likely to die from pregnancy-related complications as compared with women from other states. In 2020 in Cleveland — the epicenter of our county — nearly 75% of the babies who died before they turned one were Black.

The most maddening thing, to me, is that these deaths are preventable.

Complications develop during pregnancy or following childbirth and go ignored or undiagnosed because we don’t provide moms with enough support while they are pregnant and in the immediate weeks, months and year following birth.

We have to do more to help moms, babies and families, not just in Northeast Ohio, but across our state and country. Black Maternal Health Week runs from April 11 to 17 and is an important time to have this conversation.

We should start with increasing and improving access to health care. We need better interventions to address pregnancy-related complications, from cardiovascular disease to postpartum depression to infection. And we must focus on dismantling implicit bias, racism and classism in our health care system, and on truly listening to women about their experiences.

Our organization, Birthing Beautiful Communities, is committed to providing intensive peer-to-peer support to families throughout pregnancy, during labor and birth, and up to a babies’ first year.

This fall, we are breaking ground on a new birthing center on Chester Avenue, supported by gifts from The Cleveland Foundation, George Gund Foundation and city of Cleveland.

The U.S. has less than 400 birthing centers, and only a small handful of those — about 5% — represent people of color. Once complete, ours will be the only Black-led center in Ohio.

Our birthing center will be staffed by midwives, providing holistic, wellness care and support to moms, babies and families. That includes perinatal support, that critical time immediately after birth and in the first year of a baby’s life. Our dedicated Perinatal Support Program, developed with a gift from Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, seeks to provide critical support. We believe that support is the first step to reducing infant and maternal mortality.

That is something each and every one of us should care about advancing, because while an infant’s death can shatter a family, it also harms our communities.

Infant and maternal mortality are barometers for a community’s overall health. And by this barometer, our region, state and country are failing.

This Black Maternal Health Week, I challenge all of us to learn more about the inequities in our health system, and about how to support all families—especially Black families—through pregnancy, childbirth and an infant’s first year of life. Healthy mothers, babies and families are the foundation of a thriving Cleveland. We must reduce Black infant and maternal mortality, so our city and community can truly soar.

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Jazmin Long is president and chief executive officer at Birthing Beautiful Communities, a Cleveland nonprofit devoted to improving our region’s infant mortality rate.