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Preterm Births Are Declining, But Racial Disparities Remain

Black women are nearly four times more likely than white women to have a baby born too early, according to a new study.

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Black women are nearly four times more likely than white women to have a baby born between 16 and 22 weeks gestation, when the life of a baby outside the womb is not viable, according to a new study. This racial disparity in preterm births may explain the equally startling racial disparity in infant mortality rates.

"This is promising information, since there is emerging evidence to support the effectiveness of screening and treatments to reduce the rate of spontaneous preterm birth, such as cervical length screening and the use of progesterone," says Dr. Emily DeFranco, a physician-researcher at the Center for Prevention of Preterm Birth at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. "Our findings suggest that public health efforts should focus on access to prenatal care, optimizing opportunities for preterm birth screening and preventive efforts in high-risk black women to close the racial disparity gap in infant mortality."

Dr. DeFranco and her colleagues studied more than one million live births in Ohio between 2006 and 2012. Only one-fourth of 1 percent of live births occurred at 16 to 22 weeks. The rate of previable (less than 24 weeks) birth in black mothers was 6.9 per 1,000, while the rate in white mothers was 1.8 per 1,000 live births.

Dr. DeFranco said that while preterm birth screening and preventive efforts in the U.S. have been associated with a declining preterm birth rate in recent years, the racial disparity in previable births has not been reduced.

In order to help minimize the disparity, she emphasizesd the importance of pre-conceptual steps including optimizing maternal health prior to pregnancy, securing housing and food, maintaining access to transportation, avoiding unplanned pregnancies, and planning a 12 to 24 month interval between pregnancies.

Hollee Actman Becker is a freelance writer, blogger, and a mom. Check out her website for more, and follow her on Twitter at @holleewoodworld.