According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than half a million babies are born premature every year in the United States—one out of eight births. African-American women are two-to-three times more likely to give birth prematurely than white women.
But a new breakthrough study believes that they have the key to bridging this racial disparity gap. Researchers from Wayne State University and the U.S. government found that by providing an ultrasound to identify pregnant women with short cervices (1-2 centimeters), which increases risk for premature births, along with these same women applying a hormonal gel daily, the risk of delivering early was cut by nearly 50 percent. The gel also helped lower the risk of respiratory distress syndrome, a breathing disorder common to premature babies.
And what's even more promising is that the gel worked for some of the Black women involved in the study.
But one must note: Short cervices only represent a small portion of women who are pregnant—4 percent—and it is not clear as to whether or not short cervices deeply impact African-American women.
So, while these findings are incredibly important, they are just one piece to solving the puzzle around how to reduce premature births, especially among African-American mothers.
What we do know are the most common risk factors for prematurity, such as infections, cigarette smoking, alcohol or drug use during pregnancy. There is also the lack of prenatal care, which is strongly linked to the lack of access to health care, which we know that Black women are deeply impacted by.
But some past studies believe that something else might be at play. Researchers who conducted a 2007 study at the University of Missouri believe that while social factors are important, there might be a genetic link that could explain this disparity. Yet, they admit more research needs to be done around this theory.
Premature birth can lead to infant death or lifelong health risks such as intellectual disabilities, cerebral palsy, respiratory problems, and vision and hearing loss.
Learn more about premature births, risk factors and signs of preterm labor here.
(Picture: MCT /Landov)