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March of Dimes report: Pre-term births up in Michigan, Detroit

An image of a pregnant lady lying in a hospital bed holding her tummy, with a close up on the drip in her hand
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Michigan’s pre-term birth rate has climbed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the latest annual national maternal and infant health report card from the March of Dimes.

Michigan received an overall grade of D+. The state’s pre-term birth rate jumped from 10.2% to 10.6% from 2020-2021. The national average is 10.5%. A birth is considered pre-term when a baby is delivered before 37 weeks of pregnancy.

Dr. Zsakeba Henderson leads the Office of Maternal and Child Health Impact for the March of Dimes. She said racial disparities have grown during the COVID-19 pandemic. Nationally, Black and Native American moms are now 62% more likely than white moms to deliver pre-term.

“There were disparities in health outcomes before the pandemic. But the pandemic just magnified those disparities,” Henderson said.

Henderson said the COVID-19 pandemic worsened existing racial disparities in many ways. Among other things, research shows that pregnant women who get COVID are more likely to deliver pre-term. And it restricted access to pre-natal care for many pregnant people.

The situation is even worse in the city of Detroit, which received an F in the report. The pre-term birth rate there is now more than 15%, which is significantly higher than the state and national average. It’s about on par with the state that scored lowest in the report, Mississippi.

Henderson said C-section rates for pregnancies that aren’t considered high-risk also went up. “In Michigan it’s 28.1%, and that is a little bit higher than the national rate,” she said. That’s important because a huge proportion of preterm births are due to interventions like C-section or induction.”

The March of Dimes advocates for some policy changes they think will improve maternal and infant health outcomes. They include expanded Medicaid coverage, better pre-natal care for vulnerable pregnant people, and boosting the number of midwives and doulas, both of which are correlated with better birthing outcomes.

Henderson said it’s also important to target policies at the most vulnerable populations. “The pre-term birth rate for Black women was about 59% higher than the rate among all other women in [Michigan],” she said. “So in terms of thinking about solutions, it will be important to target that group.”

The organization also worries that this summer’s Dobbs decision from the U.S. Supreme Court could worsen outcomes, especially in states where abortion is severely restricted.

“It’s important to note that the data in the Report Card predates the Supreme Court's decision to overturn abortion as a Constitutional right,” a March of Dimes brief read. “However, we know there are maternity care providers across the country that also provide abortion services. We are concerned that current and future maternal care providers may be dissuaded from practicing in states that have more restrictive penalties for abortions, thereby creating a workforce shortage for maternal services.”

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Radio in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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