Premature Birth Rates for African American Women Remains High

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by Natelege Whaley

Preterm birth is the number one cause of infant mortality in the United States and African American women are twice as likely as women of other ethnicities to deliver their babies too soon.

While reasons for this are still largely unclear, preterm birth among African American women can be attributed to risk factors such as increased stress during pregnancy, lack of access to healthcare resources and even health conditions a pregnant woman’s mother may have faced while she was in the womb.

In an effort to learn more about this health disparity, the March of Dimes recently expanded their ‘Healthy Babies Are Worth the Wait’ program to Newark, N.J. There, the organization is focused on reaching African-American women and providing them with access to programs that will educate them about prematurity and equip them with the tools they need to have a healthy pregnancy and delivery.

“We want to not only have the physicians that provide the prenatal care and the nurses at the prenatal care sites, but we also want the entire community involved in this initiative,” said Laurie Navin, state director of Program Services for the March of Dimes New Jersey Chapter.

According to Navin, the program will provide a patient navigator that helps women access services at two Newark hospitals, appropriate prenatal medication, CenteringPregnancy (ed note: this is one word) groups at various health care sites in the city, and plans for periodontal and intimate partner violence screenings.

The goal of the ‘Healthy Babies are Worth the Wait’ initiative is to ultimately reduce the preterm birth rate among African-American women by 8 percent over the course of the multi-year program. Complications from a preterm birth can put a baby at risk for both short- and long-term illnesses. “Babies who are born preterm are more likely to be born with morbidity from cerebral palsy, blindness, deafness, developmental and/or intellectual delays,” said Navin.

For those who are pregnant or planning to have a baby, and want to understand how they can reduce their risk for preterm birth, Navin provides six (6) quick tips to keep in mind:

1. See your doctor. Make an appointment with your prenatal provider. Be sure to discuss with them any chronic illnesses you may have, such as obesity and diabetes, and any medicine use.

2. Take multi-vitamins. Get a multi-vitamin or over-the-counter prenatal vitamin. Centrum has one and Walmart carries them too. Folic acid is very important at the beginning of pregnancy for the baby’s brain and spinal cord development.

3. Build a healthy diet. Eat well. Cut out empty calories. Don’t eat too much sugar. Avoid eating undercooked meat, raw milk and foods made from it.

4. Exercise. Take a walk everyday. It helps to reduce stress and to keep weight down.

5. Avoid drugs and alcohol. If you’re exposed to second-hand smoke, try to get
your partner or whoever you’re living with to cut down or to leave the house when they’re smoking.

6. Visit There’s a question on there if you’re planning to get pregnant, are pregnant, or for new baby care. There are also prenatal quizzes and an ‘Ask Us’ option that allows you to email us with your most pressing questions.

Natelege Whaley is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn, New York. Her work has appeared in,, Uptown magazine, and she is also founder/editor of the relationship-life site for young adults,


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