Struggling to Survive: Kalamazoo organization tackles infant mortality rate

Struggling to Survive: Kalamazoo organization tackles infant mortality rate.

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - Kalamazoo County has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the state, but it is even worse for black babies.

Newschannel 3 Investigative Reporter Walter Smith-Randolph took a closer look at why that is the case and what's being done to turn that trend around.

Black babies in Kalamazoo are four-times more likely than white babies to die before their first birthdays and experts say poverty is a big factor, but there's hope that more babies might survive.

Takashi Babbitt is making sure her family beats the odds.

She said, "I'm just making sure my kids are safe and straight."

Babbitt has her hands full with two little girls and a boy on the way, but she still manages to visit the Kalamazoo YWCA for parenting classes.

She said, "A baby boy, his name is going to be Major."

Even with two, Babbitt admits, she doesn't know it all.

"People probably know what they're doing but it’s good to learn new things."

Babbitt said she's learned a lot of new things at the YWCA. Those classes educating Babbitt and other mothers about Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), safe sleeping practices, proper nutrition for toddlers and safe parenting techniques.

She said, "I watch their every move. Whether it's upstairs, downstairs, just keep eye contact."

Babbitt is proof that Kalamazoo is working on its infant mortality problem.

She said, "I'm scared because I have a black baby on the way."

But how can a city of just 76,000 have one of the highest infant mortality rates in the state?

Dr. Grace Lubwama and Dr. Kathy Kothari said the poverty gap is the biggest problem.

Kothari said, "It has to do with poverty. We know that the stressors of poverty and the disadvantage of living in poverty can really add to the health burden of women trying to have a healthy pregnancy.”

Lubwana said, "I'm not going to say all the time, but I do see it."

To get the word out, the YWCA makes home visits to target their key demographic and launched the Infant Mortality Community Action initiative, which includes community workshops and a media blitz.

Lubwama said, "Infant mortality is one of the key indicators, it speaks volumes of how the community is doing and how it's taking care of its most vulnerable population."

Kothari and Lubwama are not allowing Kalamazoo kids to become another statistic.

In the past few years, parenting classes have increased, a health services hotline was launched and the YWCA even makes home visits to connect parents to resources.

Kothari said, "It's an iceberg because there are so many other issues we need to address."

But those issues on their way to being resolved, Babbitt and her kids, living proof.

Babbitt said, "I felt overwhelmed the first time and I had the baby blues, I know how you guys are feeling."

Babbitt takes part in several classes at the YWCA in partnership with Cradle Kalamazoo.

Those programs offer family support and connect mothers to critical health services.

For a list of resources the YWCA has links to Cradle Kalamazoo, Maternal Infant Health Program and the Women and Infant Supportive Help.

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