Mortality rate for Black babies is cut dramatically when they’re delivered by Black doctors, researchers say

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(Dóra Kisteleki for The Washington Post)

Jan. 9, 2021 at 3:00 p.m. GMT

Rachel Hardeman has dedicated her career to fighting racism and the harm it has inflicted on the health of Black Americans. As a reproductive health equity researcher, she has been especially disturbed by the disproportionately high mortality rates for Black babies.


In an effort to find some of the reasons behind the high death rates, Hardeman, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, and three other researchers combed through the records of 1.8 million Florida hospital births between 1992 and 2015 looking for clues.

They found a tantalizing statistic. Although Black newborns are three times as likely to die as White newborns, when Black babies are delivered by Black doctors, their mortality rate is cut in half.


“Strikingly, these effects appear to manifest more strongly in more complicated cases,” the researchers wrote, “and when hospitals deliver more Black newborns.” They found no similar relationship between White doctors and White births. Nor did they find a difference in maternal death rates when the doctor’s race was the same as the patient’s.

“It is the first empirical evidence to describe the impact of the physician’s race on an outcome such as infant mortality,” Hardeman says.

With 5.7 deaths per 1,000 live births, the United States has a high infant mortality rate, and Black babies are in the gravest danger, with an infant mortality rate in 2018 of 10.8 deaths per 1,000 live births, compared to a rate of 4.6 White babies per 1,000 live births.

Infant mortality is defined as death during the first year of life, and 66 percent of those deaths, for all races, occur in the neonatal period in the first 28 days of life, with 14 percent within the first hour and another 26 percent within one to 23 hours.