This past Saturday Alexander, my baby boy, celebrated his 22nd birthday. Contrary to how young I might appear, I was not a teen mom. I was not even a young mother. I was a married doctoral student and insured through the university’s health insurance program. Alexander was born on his expected due date and arrived healthy and at an appropriate weight and height…6 pounds and 19 inches.
Not all families are as fortunate.
According to the California Department of Public Health, in one year in the Inland Empire of the 62,369 babies born, 6,736 are born prematurely, 10,078 pregnant women receive late or no prenatal care, 1,890 babies are born with a birth defect, and 337 babies die before their first birthday.
November is Prematurity Awareness Month, and while the national preterm birth rate is 11.4 percent it is still higher than that of most developed nations. Premature birth is the #1 killer of newborns and leaves babies at risk for severe health problems and lifelong disabilities.
Two weeks ago while attending a media briefing hosted by Riverside Community Hospital and the March of Dimes, I was surprised to learn that a disproportionate number of African-American children are born prematurely. In 2012, 503,755 babies were born in California. Of that number, one in 7 births to Black mothers was preterm. While their overall prematurity rates have decreased, they are still significantly higher than all other racial groups. Dr. Kenneth Dozier, RCH’s Chief Medical Officer, shared with me that those disproportionately higher rates could be attributed to a number of economic factors including lack of appropriate medical and early prenatal care, substance abuse, and poor nutrition.
Addressing the factors that impact Black mothers, including access to medical care and prenatal care, can significantly decrease these higher rates. That is why earlier this year I joined a March of Dimes led coalition of more than 50 organizations to lobby our legislature and governor to restore $4 million in funding for the Black Infant Health Network, allowing the vital public health program to serve more women throughout the state and allow San Bernardino and Riverside Counties’ programs to reopen after shutting down due to budget cuts.
Like my baby boy Alexander, all babies deserve a chance at a healthy start in life. You can help. Contact the Inland Empire March of Dimes: www.marchofdimes.com/ca