Who Does Prematurity Affect?

Any woman can have a baby prematurely. Most preterm births are spontaneous, meaning they just happen. Although the causes of preterm labor are not fully understood, researchers believe that preterm labor may be triggered by the body’s response to certain infections. There may also be genetic factors that contribute to premature birth. But in about 40% of cases, doctors cannot determine why the baby was born before term.

Preterm babies occur with greater frequency among black infants (18%) and Native Americans (14%) than for Hispanics (12%), whites (11%) and Asians (10%). Black infants were two times more likely than Asian infants to be born premature, and prematurity is the leading cause of infant death for black infants (National Center for Health Statistics). Preterm births are also more common for women carrying twins, triplets or other multiples. Multiple births are 6 times more likely to be preterm than single babies. Women who are very young, such as 20 years old and under, or much older, over 40, have the highest rates of preterm births (National Center for Health Statistics).

Researchers believe there are several reasons for disparities between African-American women and other groups but more investigation is needed. Some of the disparities can be attributed to differences both the quality of care received within the health care delivery system and access to health care, including preventive and curative services. Social, political, economic and environmental exposures may also result in differences in underlying health status and must be explored more fully by researchers.

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Resources:

Centers for Disease Control
Premature Birth

American Academy of Pediatrics
Premie Milestones Brochure

Kids Health
A Primer on Premies

March of Dimes
About Prematurity

National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD)

Preterm Labor and Birth