Every November our focus turns to prematurity and Prematurity Awareness Month. In particular, November 17th (tomorrow) is Prematurity Awareness Day. For the second year in a row, the rate of babies born prematurely has risen and is now at 9.8% for 2016, up from 9.6 % in 2015. The numbers are even worse for families of color, where black parents are almost 50% more likely to give birth to a premature baby. Native American and Alaska Native people are 18% more likely to deliver preterm compared to white parents. Prematurity is defined as a baby before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Preterm birth rates increased in 43 states, Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico for all racial and ethnic groups. You can find out your state's "grade" on prematurity by visiting the March of Dimes website. This year’s Report Card includes a preterm birth disparity ratio, which provides a summary measure of the disparities in preterm birth rates across racial/ethnic groups in a geographic area. The disparity ratio shows that the differences in preterm birth rates among racial/ethnic groups are getting worse nationally and no state has shown improvement since the baseline of 2010-2012.
Premature birth is the largest cause of death in babies in the U.S. Premature babies who do not lose their life typically have a long road ahead of them including serious and long-term health problems such as breathing problems, jaundice, vision loss, cerebral palsy and intellectual delays. Among the 100 cities in the U.S. with the greatest number of births (latest data is for 2015), Irvine, California had the lowest rate of preterm birth (5.8 percent), and Cleveland, Ohio had the highest preterm birth rate (14.9 percent). Beyond the emotional toll on babies and their families, financially, preterm birth accounts for more than $26 billion annually in avoidable medical and societal costs, according to the National Academy of Medicine.
Babies born to families of color are more likely to be born premature and low birth weight NPR recently did a very relevant piece on how people of color's health is impacted through ongoing and relentless discrimination that creates the health disparities that we see existing in the different racial groups in the USA. Scientists Start to Tease Out the Subtler Ways that Racism Hurts Health was a fascinating piece that included an examination of low-birth-weight babies born to Latino people who experienced the stress of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids happening in their communities, despite their own legal status.
According to the March of Dimes - it is difficult to identify one cause of preterm birth. Therefore, they are focusing their efforts on multiple fronts nationally along with directing additional efforts to communities with the greatest need. Their actions and programs include:
1. Expanding scientific research:
- A network of five March of Dimes Prematurity Research Centers is pioneering an innovative team approach to identify the unknown causes of premature birth and find new ways to prevent it.
- The conditions in which people live and work have a profound impact on birth outcomes. Scientists have learned that these factors can actually modify how genes are expressed. Studying and understanding the effect of factors such as health care, housing, jobs, neighborhood safety, food security, and income is key to achieving better health or birth equity for all.
2. Increasing education:
- Traditional and new social media campaigns are educating women of childbearing age and healthcare professionals. We’re a trusted source on best practices, from reducing early elective (non-medically indicated) deliveries to low-dose aspirin to group prenatal care that can dramatically improve the health of moms and babies.
3. Strengthening advocacy for policies that prioritize the health of moms and babies:
- March of Dimes and our supporters work to ensure government policies and programs create a better community context for healthy pregnancies and infants. By advocating for the needs of moms and babies, we work to ensure no mom or baby falls through the cracks.
- We launched a Prematurity Campaign Collaborative, convening 300 leading maternal and child health organizations and experts to build a movement around equity and preterm birth.
4. Improving clinical care programs and practice:
- The March of Dimes creates and runs its signature programs on the ground that help improve health outcomes for mothers and babies, such as Supportive Pregnancy Care; and support and educate families with preterm babies, such as NICU Family Support.
Childbirth educators play a key role in helping families understand the signs of premature labor, and to understand the increased risks that families of color face, regardless of their income, location or health status. Covering the topic of prematurity in the beginning of a class or class series helps get the topic out there and open for discussion. Finding a balance between informing parents and not scaring them is critical but this important topic can be handled appropriately to find the right balance.
Everyone working together can turn this ship around and impact outcomes. 1 in 10 babies who are born too early is not acceptable. We all can agree on that. What are you doing to help reduce the rate of prematurity in your classes and in your community? Let us know in the comments section. This month's upcoming Brilliant Activities for Birth Educators post coming at the end of the month has some great ideas on how you can cover this topic in class.
If you are interested in learning more how you can publicize this topic tomorrow, November 17th, on social media, check out the March of Dimes suggestions for how to do so here.