Prematurity Awareness Month
November is Prematurity Awareness Month, which aims to raise awareness about premature birth and its impact on infants and families in the United States. Premature birth occurs when a baby is born before completing 37 weeks, while a full-term pregnancy typically lasts about 40 weeks. Premature birth gives the baby less time to develop in the womb.
As a result, premature births can adversely impact the health outcomes and developmental trajectory of the infant. In addition to affecting the health of infants, preterm birth can have significant physical and emotional impacts on mothers. Physically, mothers who give birth prematurely might experience complications during childbirth, including increased risks of infection, bleeding, and the need for a cesarean section. Mothers often face intense emotional stress, worry, and uncertainty about the health and well-being of their premature infants. The emotional toll can affect their overall mental health, making it essential for mothers to receive adequate support, counseling, and medical care during this challenging time.
In North Carolina, the preterm birth rate is highest for Black infants at 14.6% compared to the state preterm birth rate of 10.8%. These health outcomes highlight disparities in access to maternal healthcare for Black women in North Carolina. Various factors contribute to this disparity, including socioeconomic inequalities, limited access to quality healthcare, and systemic racism within the healthcare system. Discrimination and stress related to racial disparities can lead to chronic stress, which is a known risk factor for preterm birth. Additionally, Black women often face barriers in accessing prenatal care and postpartum care, and when they do, the care may be of lower quality. Closing the gap in preterm birth rates among racial and ethnic groups is crucial for ensuring maternal and infant health equity.
Voting is a fundamental right and a powerful tool for citizens to shape their communities and influence policy decisions, such as healthcare access. Citizens in North Carolina can drive systemic changes by participating in local, state, and national elections. They can drive health equity policy change by electing representatives who prioritize healthcare access and equitable policies. For example, policies introduced this year that address racial disparities in maternal care include Medicaid expansion in North Carolina and the PREEMIE Act of 2023 introduced in Congress.
Advocacy efforts focused on healthcare policies can lead to the distribution of resources to improve access to quality prenatal and postpartum care, mental health services, and education for Black mothers in North Carolina. Public policy has the potential to transform our healthcare system by implementing practices such as implicit bias training, funding to increase workforce diversity, and creating more healthcare facilities that serve marginalized communities. By actively advocating for policies that address racial inequities and voting for leaders who champion equitable healthcare, North Carolina can work towards dismantling systemic barriers and ensuring that Black mothers have access to the care they deserve, thereby promoting healthier outcomes for mothers and infants in our state.
Environmental Health Fellow