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Mayor Tom Barrett visits local churches as part of 9th annual Strong Baby Sabbath

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett is raising awareness for infant mortality rates in the city.

He says African American babies are at a higher risk of dying before their first birthday compared to other children.

Mayor Barrett started the 'Strong Baby Sanctuary' initiative 9 years ago. He says even though infant mortality numbers have gone down as a whole, the number of African American babies dying has not changed much.

The Mayor visited two churches Sunday morning for the annual event. Last year, nearly 100 babies born in Milwaukee died before their first birthday.

"There's nothing cuter than seeing that baby blow out that candle on their first birthday cake and we want that to happen in all parts of the city," said Mayor Barrett.

The top preventable causes of infant death in the city are premature birth and unsafe sleeping environments. And while Mayor Barrett is focused on fixing those issues, he's discovered having emotional and physical support for young mothers is crucial to raising healthy babies.

"We know there's too much poverty in some parts of the city in Milwaukee. We know that there's a lot of emotional trauma in young women in some neighborhoods in the city and so it's how do we give them the support that they need and that's where the churches come in", said Mayor Barrett.

Mariah Galarza has two kids and one of them is her 7-month-old baby girl Maddox. She says the number of babies that died last year is shocking.

"Hearing that they didn't have the proper resources or material to make it to their first birthday is scary and unreal," said Galarza who is with the New Covenant Baptist Church.

With the help of her church, Galarza hopes to help young mothers who may be struggling.

"Some people feel like 'oh they'er gonna look at me a different way or i'm not a member of this church' just tell them you don't have to be a member to come get the resources and the help that you need," said Galarza.

"If the young women in this city know that they can go to church and get that support, I think that's gonna have an impact," said Mayor Barrett.

As of now, Milwaukee has more than 20 strong baby sanctuaries but the Mayor says more churches are signing up.

For a list of the Strong Baby Sanctuary sites click here

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