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What Socioeconomic Groups Are More At Risk For Having Premature Babies, & Why?

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Giving birth is an exciting, stressful, confusing, exhilarating time. And that's when all goes well, when a healthy baby is delivered full term without complications to the mother. For parents whose babies are born prematurely, all of those emotions are compounded exponentially. Premature babies can potentially be at risk to a whole host of health issues, both at birth and later on in life. But which socioeconomic group is most at risk for having premature babies?

According to the World Health Organization, approximately 15 million babies are born prematurely world wide every year. More than one million of those babies die after birth, and the babies who live are in for a long road that could be full of neurological and physical disabilities that could plague them throughout their lives. Premature births account for half of all infant deaths, according to Dr. Joy Lawn, Director of Global Evidence and Policy for Save The Children, in the report by WHO:

Being born too soon is an unrecognized killer. Preterm births account for almost half of all newborn deaths worldwide and are now the second leading cause of death in children under 5, after pneumonia.

While there are many factors that could contribute to possible preterm births, the United States National Library of Medicine found a link between lower income patients and higher rates of preterm births.

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Premature baby Kamil Wawruch is pictured at Legnica Hospital in Legnica, Poland, on March 26, 2015, where he was rescued through a renal transplantation. Wawruch is the youngest human in the world living with an artificial kidney, according to his Polish doctors.

The National Library of Medicine conducted a study of 107,926 pregnant women over a two-year period. Each of these women was pregnant with one child, and conducted a pregnancy risk assessment by filling out a questionnaire. Data was collected regarding preterm contractions, income, education, type of insurance coverage, and gestational age. The median income of the patients was $30,000 per year. The authors of the study noted that women who experienced preterm contractions were 58 percent more likely to have a preterm birth, and women in lower incomes were at an increased risk of preterm contractions.

The WHO has noted that preventative measures during pregnancy help reduce the risk of preterm births. Lower income mothers might not have access to health insurance, which could limit the care available to them. A minimum of eight contacts with a healthcare professional during pregnancy is recommended by the WHO, to establish interventions that could reduce the risk of preterm births like:

  • proper nutrition advice
  • counseling about tobacco and substance abuse
  • fetal measurements to track growth throughout the pregnancy
  • determine whether or not there is a gestational infection

Another study conducted in 2015 by the University of Minnesota found that the presence of a doula (which is covered by Medicaid for lower income patients since state legislation was passed in 2013) can lower the risk of preterm births for lower income mothers. According to a report by CBS News, doulas were found to reduce the risk of preterm births by 22 percent. Doulas are trained birthing professionals who provide extensive support to mothers before, during, and after they give birth.

Babies born before reaching full term could experience respiratory issues, neurological problems, metabolic and gastrointestinal distress, and heart complications to name just a few. That's why it's on the U.S. to make sure anyone who chooses to have children have access to the proper medical care to keep themselves healthy, and then to later keep the child healthy once they give birth.