ST. PAUL, Minn. — Health care providers, social workers and community members are working to address a disparity of infancy deaths between babies born to black women and babies born to white women in Minnesota.

State health officials say babies born to black women in Minnesota are more than twice as likely to die during infancy as babies born to white women.

A summit in St. Paul on Thursday aims to find a way to boost black infants’ chance of survival, Minnesota Public Radio reported .

Minnesota Department of Human Services Medical Director Jeff Schiff said one emerging theory suggests black women have more difficult pregnancies because they experience more stress.

“We know that there are stressors associated with race and with how people are treated because of their race,” Schiff said.

Those stressors can have a negative effect on the body, he said.

“Stress, just physiologically, causes people to have higher cortisol, higher stress hormones,” Schiff said. “Those are the things that lead to premature birth.”

Schiff said other states have decreased the infant mortality rate by treating mothers of color early in their pregnancies and giving them social support.

The department is giving $1.3 million to medical and community providers in Hennepin and Ramsey counties. The funds are to be used to better integrate medical and social services to improve birth outcomes.

State officials said they hope to increase similar approaches that already exist in the state.

Clara Sharp runs Ahavah BirthWorks, a doula organization that follows moms to doctor visits and connects them with other new moms for support. Sharp said she wants to encourage such support.

“The mothers actually give each other advice,” she said. “It’s not so much us doing it. It’s that peer-to-peer support.”


Information from: Minnesota Public Radio News, http://www.mprnews.org