The United States has one of the worst preterm birth rates in the world, and things are not getting better for women in communities of color.
According to March of Dimes, a leading nonprofit that works to improve the health of mothers and babies, preterm birth rates among Black women increased from 14.25% to 14.36% in 2021.
The number might not sound like much, but when compared to the declining overall preterm birth rate of 10.1%, it is significant.
“I’ve had eight babies and I have two living children,” said Ama Chandra Brown, a Black mother living in Baltimore. “I absolutely am present to the gift. What it means to have them, what it means to be in agreement with them, what it means to be a mama.”
In 2001, Brown endured her first pregnancy, and then another, and then another. It would take her until pregnancy No. 5 to successfully give birth to a baby boy, Tano, who is now 14.
A few years later, she gave birth to a set of twins, Maylee and her brother, who did not survive.
“That’s why they’re my master teachers. They keep me on my toes to be present and alive for the best,” said Brown.
Brown is among the many Black women in the United States who are 60% more likely to have a preterm birth than white women, according to March of Dimes.
“Our health and wellness are really less determined what happens in the doctor’s office, for the most part. It’s really determined by how we live,” said Stacey Stuart, president and CEO of March of Dimes.
According to several research organizations, racism and discrimination play a major role in the rising number of preterm births in communities of color. Researchers at the University of Maryland School of Public Health have found challenges in accessing health care and the stress from directly bigoted remarks account for nearly 40% of preterm births (37 weeks or earlier) and almost a third of very preterm births (32 weeks or earlier) among Black women.
“You see a deterioration in women’s health over time and poor birth outcomes as a result of that stress coming from racism and discrimination can have on a woman’s body, and that can cause her to have poor birth outcomes over time,” said Stuart.
The term is called maternal weathering, and according to the National Institutes of Health, "May accelerate aging that increases preterm delivery risk.”
Brown says it happened in every one of her pregnancies. Even though she has two healthy children now, Tano was born at 27 weeks and Maylee was born at 25 weeks. Brown says both experienced brain bleeds and had to be kept in the hospital months after being born.
“I know I’m not alone, but it’s an isolating journey,” said Brown. “[My children] solidified my journey into well-being, and knowing that I can do this and I have been doing it. We’re all in it together we’re a great trio.”
Last year, the Momnibus Act was introduced to Congress to address some of these inequities and provide more support to midwives and doulas in Black communities, but the bill was directed to the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security for further studying.