According to the March of Dimes, preterm birth is a growing health concern in the United States. Preliminary data from The National Center for Health Statistics show that the preterm birth rate is on the rise for the second year in a row. Preterm birth is a leading cause of neonatal morbidity and mortality for Women of color. The numbers rose from 9.63% in 2015 to 9.84% in 2016. A pre-term baby is born at less than 37 completed weeks of gestation. Babies born preterm are at greater risk than infants born at term for infant death and many health and developmental problems. They also experience a wide variety of problems such as respiratory distress (breathing problems), gastrointestinal concerns (stomach and digestion problems), nervous system problems (brain damage), long term physical growth concerns, hearing, vision and social and behavioral problems.
Preterm births can be caused by many factors. Common factors include the mother’s psychological and behavioral conditions, homes or communities that pregnant women live in, genetics and social/biological factors such as family history, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, substance use during pregnancy (smoking, drinking) etc.
Although many changes have taken place to improve the survival rate of infants born too soon, more research and effort is needed to determine how the quality of a mother’s environment/ living conditions and social supports in addition to lack of access to prenatal care contribute to this growing concern.
It is important that pregnant women seek prenatal care as soon as they know they are pregnant. Prenatal care involves a health care provider checking on the woman and her baby during her pregnancy. Getting routine prenatal care visits- even if a woman is feeling fine- can help a woman experience a healthy, full term pregnancy by helping to identify any problems early so they can be addressed in a timely way.
Let’s encourage Pre-natal care for pregnant women in our lives and advocate for policies which promote and expand prenatal care coverage for all pregnant women!