The CDC reports that Pennsylvania’s premature birth rate decreased between 2019 and 2020, but racial disparity in the data still exists across the state.
Preterm births, or births before week 37 of pregnancy, are the leading cause of infant mortality in the US, and are often associated with long-term health issues in children. While the United States overall experienced a 7% increase of preterm births from 2014 to 2019, a recent CDC report showed some good news in the decrease of preemie births. In the US, the average preterm birth rate decreased from 8.47% in 2019 to 8.42% in 2020.
Pennsylvania showed encouraging trends and was one of the four states whose preterm birth rate declined by a margin of between 1% and 5% in 2020. While some Pennsylvania mothers are experiencing a drop in preterm pregnancies, the CDC data illustrates that the decrease is not universal across ethnicity.
According to the study, the preterm birth rate “declined 1% for births to non-Hispanic White mothers from 2019 to 2020 (7.44% to 7.36%)” while the rate increased slightly “for births to non-Hispanic Black [mothers] (12.12% to 12.18%).”
March of Dimes, a nonprofit dedicated to improving the health of mothers and babies, recently released their 2021 report card detailing in depth, among other topics, the conditions of Black and Indigenous mothers in Pennsylvania.
The increase in preterm births among Black mothers is a consistent trend, with Black mothers 51% more likely to deliver babies early than all other mothers in Pennsylvania.
March of Dimes grades the state of Pennsylvania a C+, and according to the report, “Black, American Indian and Alaska Native women are 60% more likely to give birth prematurely compared to white women.” While overall infant deaths declined statewide, “Black and indigenous babies still have double the risk of dying before their first birthdays compared to white babies.”
One of the policies that the nonprofit endorsed in the report was “the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2021,” which the organization noted “will help fill gaps in existing legislation to improve maternal health outcomes for women of color.”
The Momnibus Act was introduced to the House in early 2021 by Representative Lauren Underwood (D-IL), co-chair and co-founder of the Black Maternal Health Caucus.
Pennsylvania Representative Mike Doyle of District 18 publicly declared his support as a co-sponsor of the Momnibus Act and fellow Caucus member, saying “Black maternal mortality is a huge problem in [Pittsburgh], and I’ve been working hard to address the problem locally and nationally.”
Full details of the Momnibus Act can be found on the Black Maternal Health Caucus website and includes 12 bills with policies such as 12-month postpartum Medicaid coverage, promoting maternal vaccinations, and mitigating climate change-related risks for moms and babies.
While it is encouraging to see the drop in premature births statewide, there is still work to be done to ensure the health and safety of all mothers and babies in Pennsylvania. Thankfully, Pennsylvania legislators such as Mike Doyle, Madeleine Dean, Dwight Evans, and Mary Gay Scanlon are teaming with medical professionals to provide better health coverage for all.