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United Way on Milwaukee's Infant Mortality Crisis

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It's a stunning and sad statistic.

"Milwaukee has one of the highest rates of infant mortality in the country, and among African Americans, the highest," said Nicole Angresano, VP of Community Impact at the United Way of Greater Milwaukee. "It's a rate, in fact, that's so bad that it's worse than some underdeveloped nations."

In the last year, local media has embraced the issue, pointing to co-sleeping as a leading cause of infant deaths in the city.  But Angresano says there's more to the picture.

"The reality is most infant morality deaths are due to babies being too small, too soon.  Then down the list comes co-sleeping," she said.

The United Way invests in programs to increase access to quality prenatal care and safe sleeping, but it also focuses on less tangible factors which contribute to the infant mortality crisis. At first glance the connection may be unclear, but the connecting thread is stress.

"If we're really going to get our arms around this issue, we're going to have to talk about the elephants in the room.  And the elephants in the room are racism and poverty," Angresano said.

Those factors together, compounded over generations, increase the aggregate stress level for expecting mothers.  The theory is women's bodies are actually changing inside, making it harder for them to carry a baby to full term.

Anxiety is already running high for any mother-to-be, but Angresano says adding unemployment or inadequate social support to the equation is oftentimes too much for a new mom.

To ease the burden, the City of Milwaukee Health Department, along with the United Way and Serve Marketing, has created an unscripted video series called Women2Women.  The short videos feature local women, providing earnest advice for mothers, all from a woman's perspective.

Of course, a video series alone doesn't solve the problem, but the United Way says Women2Women is another tool for women to handle pregnancy.  And anything to help reduce stress is a step in the right direction.

"There were no scripts. There were no prompts," Angresano said. "It was very organic, very raw in many cases ... but I think that the results are really high impact." 

In addition to the video series, the Health Department created the website iwantastrongbaby.com.  It includes resources for all stages of pregnancy and beyond.

To connect with the United Way of Greater Milwaukee, call (414) 263-8100.

 

To hear the audio version of this story, click the podcast player below.