Initiative Saves Hundreds of Black Babies
By Darlene A. White and Patreice A. Massey, Managing Editor
Most soon-to-be mothers around the world are preparing for baby showers; gender reveals and discussing different themes for baby nurseries as their pregnancies progress. But for an alarming number of black mothers in the city of Detroit, their focus is avoiding preterm labor in hopes of keeping their infants alive.
Detroit has one of the worst (highest) preterm birth and infant mortality rates in the country, equal to that of some third world countries. With a preterm birth rate of 14.5 percent, Detroit earned an “F” among major U.S. cities for premature births according to the 2018 Premature Birth Report Card from the March of Dimes, the nation’s leading maternal and infant health nonprofit organization.
“For every 1,000 babies born alive in the United States, about six die before their first birthday. But in Detroit, that number is higher. In Detroit, for every 1,000 live births, an average of 15 infants will die before their first birthday,” according to data obtained from the U.S. Office of Minority Health.
Research has shown that disparities such as racial inequity, poverty, stress, food insecurity, lack of education, and limited access to transportation or health care can contribute to poor health outcomes for mothers and babies.
In efforts to quell this epidemic, the city of Detroit has welcomed several initiatives geared towards reducing the city’s infant mortality rate. One such initiative is the Make Your Date Detroit program. Make Your Date Detroit is a Wayne State University organization that is fighting to turn the tide against premature births in Detroit.
Make Your Date Detroit is a program steeped in controversy. There have been investigative reports delving into the program’s fundraising methods and allegations of a personal relationship involving the mayor of Detroit. Headlines tout impropriety and imply that the program may have received preferential treatment from city officials. It’s a salacious story, that has everyone talking.
But what isn’t making headlines are the results seen from this program and the fact that it is saving lives in the African American community.
According to its website, the program provides free prenatal care to city residents regardless of their insurance coverage. The program focuses on screening and treatment for a short cervix, a leading condition that contributes to preterm delivery.
Mayor Mike Duggan, who has witnessed the effects of preterm labor during his time spent as the head of one of Detroit’s prominent health systems, believes infant mortality is a priority issue and supports Make Your Date Detroit.
“As the CEO of the Detroit Medical Center, it was very difficult to watch infants born at 7 or 8 months struggle even to breathe on their own,” said Mayor Duggan. “That happens in Detroit hundreds of times a year, twice as often as in the rest of Michigan. Make Your Date is an effort to give Detroit children every opportunity to begin their lives strong and healthy by helping moms carry their children to full term.”
With the disproportionate number of infants of color affected by preterm birth, the goal of Make Your Date is to be the best support system for expecting mothers throughout their pregnancy.
“African American infants are at a 50 percent greater risk of preterm birth compared to white infants. As a result, African American infants are now more than twice as likely to die as white infants,” says Marisa Rodriquez, director of strategic operations of the Office of Women’s Health at Wayne State University. “African American women are three to four times more likely to die in pregnancy than white mothers. Hispanic mothers and infants are also at greater risk when compared to white women. There are tests and treatments that exist to reduce preterm birth, but many pregnant women do not have access to them. Our program works to make these lifesaving approaches available. What our program and others provide is important in the fight to reduce the very substantial racial and ethnic health disparities that are seen in pregnancy.”
Rodriquez says that the Make Your Date program has already begun saving infant lives in a short period.
“Make Your Date has been so successful that participating mothers are 37 percent less likely to deliver at under 32 weeks and 28 percent are less likely to deliver at under 34 weeks,” she said. “In a city with such high rates of preterm birth and infant mortality, these results are remarkable. We are very proud that women are delivering healthy babies as a result of this program.”
Expectant mothers can expect to receive an array of services that will help ensure the health of mother and baby—no insurance required.
“If a pregnant woman has not gone to prenatal care or does not have insurance yet, Make Your Date connects pregnant women to receive the necessary prenatal care at the location she requests and insurance sign-up assistance,” said Rodriquez, “We help to facilitate access to early prenatal care and stay with these moms throughout their pregnancy to be sure they receive the necessary tests, treatment, and services to ensure a healthy pregnancy.”
Deja Mason, 23, of Detroit, is a participant in the Make Your Date Detroit program. She says the program has helped educate her on what to expect during her pregnancy with her daughter.
“I enjoy the fact that this program gives you the proper insight to the problems that pregnancy may cause,” she stated. “I also like the fact that the program teaches you how to properly care for yourself during pregnancy.”
The majority of the Make Your Date Detroit participants are African American women, residing in the City of Detroit, with an age range of 13-44; more than half are between 13 and 24. Some participants are first time mothers, others have several children and many have experienced a preterm birth or infant loss in a prior pregnancy. Some moms often have limited or no insurance, transportation, medical services, medication, food and shelter.
Mason says that after participating in the program, she recommends Make Your Date Detroit to all expecting mothers.
“These people running the Make Your Date program truly care and they take their time to teach and help all mothers who are expecting a baby. This is something that I truly needed when carrying my baby.”
Anyone can be involved in bringing awareness to the Make Your Date Detroit program. Opportunities include acting as a volunteer, donating, or referring a friend or family member to the program.
For more information on the Make Your Date Detroit program, please visit www.makeyourdate.org.
For Maternal Infant Health Programs near you please call 1-833-MI4-MIHP (644-6447) or Email: MIHP@michigan.gov