March of Dimes issued its 2020 Report Card and calls for racial justice, shining a spotlight on factors that contribute to maternal and infant health. Georgia received and “F” grade.
The U.S. remains among the most dangerous developed nations for childbirth and it’s even more dire for women and babies of color. The Report Card shows that for the fifth year in a row, the U.S. preterm birth rate increased to 10.2% of births, earning the nation a “C-” grade compared to last year’s “C” grade. Preterm birth is a leading cause of infant mortality, which has slowly declined over the past few years. Yet, still in the U.S. two babies die every hour and two women die from pregnancy complications every day.
These statistics are worse for moms and babies of color – with the Report Card showing significant racial disparities that cut across maternal and infant health. Women of color are up to 50% more likely to give birth preterm and their children face up to a 130% higher infant death rate. Disparities in preterm birth have increased over the past several years in the U.S. The disparity ratio for preterm birth, a measure that tracks progress to eliminating racial/ethnic disparities shows that disparities have worsened in recent years by about 5%. Additionally, Black and American Indian/Alaskan Native women are up to three times more likely to die from pregnancy related complications compared to White women.
While there is no single cause to this complex maternal and infant health crisis, contributing factors include maternal health and management of preexisting conditions. They also include social determinants of health such as being uninsured, living in poverty and having inadequate prenatal care – which again the Report Card shows most often affect women of color. Additionally, systemic challenges with health care systems and deeply entrenched structural racism are helping to fuel this health equity gap.
“At a time of racial awakening in our nation, we must amplify our efforts to decrease deaths and health challenges facing our nation’s moms and babies and enact new policies that support health equity,” said Stacey D. Stewart, President and CEO of March of Dimes.
The Report Card shows that almost 21,500 babies were lost in 2018 compared to 22,341 babies in 2017. Infant mortality rates have declined due to changes in maternal age – including a decline in teen births in the U.S. – decreases in adult smoking rates and decreases in death from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
The leading causes of infant death include birth defects, preterm birth and low birth weight, maternal complications and sudden infant death syndrome.
With support from the Humana Foundation, March of Dimes is mobilizing cross-sector partners to address health equity at the national level through its Mom & Baby Action Network and in six communities, including Atlanta, GA (Fulton County). The partners will build a common agenda and deploy strategies to address the underlying causes and system challenges that negatively impact maternal and infant health within a community. The Mom & Baby Action Network will serve as the national backbone of support for these local communities and share best practices to drive systems change to eliminate the health equity gap.
Additionally, March of Dimes advocates for federal legislation that prioritizes the health of our nation’s moms and babies. The Helping MOMS Act of 2020, Maternal Health Quality Improvement Act of 2020 and Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2020 are examples of critically important policies that offer comprehensive solutions needed to address the health crisis head on. State and local legislation is also needed to fill the gaps associated with access to maternity care for women in rural and underserved communities. Just as important is education and implicit bias training to equip health care professionals with the tools they need to eliminate institutional racism in our health care system and provide more culturally competent care no matter where they practice.
To view the Report Card and actions you can take support moms and babies, visit marchofdimes.org/ReportCard.