Black Women Bear the Brunt of Premature Births in the U.S.

African-American women are almost two times more likely to have babies too early.

Posted: 05/08/2012 12:53 PM EDT

Prenatal care could help prevent premature births. (Photo: GettyImages)

Findings from a new international report may startle you: The U.S. has a higher rate of premature births, ranking above 125 countries such as Rwanda, Uzbekistan and China.

Born Too Soon: The Global Action Report on Preterm Birth arrives after an exhaustive joint effort from about 50 lead international, regional and national organizations, including the World Health Organization (WHO), the March of Dimes, Save the Children, and The Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health. Twelve percent of all American babies are born premature — before 37 weeks — and that translates into roughly half a million babies a year.

Chris Howson, vice president for global programs at the March of Dimes, told Kaiser Health News that while nearly two-thirds of all preterm births worldwide occur in sub-Saharan African and Asia, the U.S. rate shows that "this is not just a developing country issue."

African-American women are bearing the brunt of this issue. In 2009, while white women had a preterm birth rate of 10.9 percent, the rate among African-American women was 17.5 percent.

So why are these rates so high?

The report suggests that in countries such as the United States, women are on fertility drugs and are having multiple babies at one time, which can play a factor into the high rate of premature births. But the main factors include obesity, diabetes diagnosis, heart disease, smoking, lack of prenatal care, poor maternal health and drug and alcohol use.

While poverty, education, age and access to health care play a role, past data shows that even Black women with college degrees who earn higher incomes still have higher rates of preterm labor than their white counterparts. Health experts believe that high levels of stress due to racism, post-traumatic stress disorder and genetics could also explain these disparities.  

To help address this issue, in February, President Obama launched a $40 million program aimed at reducing the number of premature births, especially among physicians who agree to or pressure their patients to induce before 39 weeks without having any serious medical complications.

Giving birth before your due date (40 weeks) can have some serious health consequences including higher risks of cerebral palsy, blindness, deafness, developmental and intellectual issues and even death.


To learn more about preventing preterm labor go here.


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