Black Women’s Health: Give The Mother’s Day Gift That Keeps Giving

E. Clare Stewart is graduate of Fisk University and Meharry Medical College, School of Graduate Studies and Research. She currently serves as the Community Coordinator for the HBCU Wellness Project at Fisk University. Follow her on twitter at @EClareStewart.

In North Nashville, home to Fisk University, Meharry Medical College, and Tennessee State University, infant mortality rates rival Sri Lanka.

Infant mortality is the death of an infant before its first birthday. Infant mortality rates denote the health of a population and a nation. The United States leads the world in healthcare expenditures, yet it ranks 28th in developed countries in infant mortality. Birth outcomes including pre-term birth, low birth weight, and infant mortality are indicators of the mother’s health before and during pregnancy.

The infant mortality rate in the United States is currently about seven deaths per 1,000 live births. Among African Americans, the rates are two times higher than the general population. In some states, particularly those in the South, mortality rates in the past five years rates have been as high as 18-22 deaths per 1,000 live births.

In response to this data, in May 2007, the Office of Minority Health (OMH) and the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) initiated the A Health Baby Begins With You campaign. This campaign is designed to raise awareness about infant mortality in the black community, using students as preconception peer health educators (PPE). Pilot sites for the project were Fisk University and Meharry Medical College (Nashville, TN), Spelman College (Atlanta, GA), Morgan State University (Baltimore, MD), and University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing (Philadelphia, PA). The campaign has now spread its reach to Florida and California.

While the data and information is overwhelming and the loss of infant life is staggering, there is one lesson each of us, particularly women, should learn. The importance of self-care.

Sunday, many will take time to celebrate our mothers and the women who’ve positively impacted our lives. We’ll give cards, flowers, slippers and perfume; but I’d like for you to give them something else–a challenge of self-care.

May 13th marks the beginning of Women’s Health Week and this year’s theme is, “It’s Your Time”. Challenge and encourage the women (Ladies, feel free to challenge your girlfriends, even yourself!)  in your life to make their health a priority.

Changing one’s lifestyle to include healthy behaviors is difficult. It is a true process of trial and error. It’s easy to tell someone to exercise, eat right, manage your stress and avoid risky behaviors. The difficult part is the first few steps. During Women’s Health Week, I’d like for you to take their hand and join them on their quest to total health and wellness.

The gym can be intimidating, so take a walk or ride your bike with her in the local park. Introduce a new fruit or vegetable into your diet each month. Doctors’ offices can seem cold and impersonal, so go with her to visit her healthcare provider. Take time to ask how she is feeling and listen to what she has to say.

Ladies, take care of yourselves, the birth of a nation is dependent upon you.


  1. Excellent, excellent column! We do a terrible job taking care of ourselves. We make excuses not to exercise. We put a low premium on having good mental and emotional health. As for eating right, too many of us poke fun at those who make a concerted effort to eat more healthfully, then loudly brag and belch after dining from tables laden with fried foods, mac ‘n cheese, biscuits, gravy, etc. And vegetables? Indeed, but often we add salt, usually too much, and cook them until they are limp. It has to change, unless we sadly continue digging our own graves with our own teeth.

    • “…digging our own graves with our own teeth.” Wow, what a powerful illustration! I may use that in the near future! I’m glad to know you’re someone who is vigilant about your own health and wellness. Please continue to read and comment here on HBCUstory!
      -E. Clare

  2. “We sadly continue digging our own graves with our own teeth.” O wow! I’ve got to go the gym…tomorrow. LOL! All jokes aside, black woman must take this issue on with the same zealousness as we have every other seemingly insurmountable obstacle.