Highlighting Black Maternal Health Week: Preterm Labor and Preterm Birth
Black Maternal Health Week, which is recognized annually between April 11 and April 17, is an opportunity to build awareness, amplify voices, and promote public health efforts surrounding Black maternal health. Originally founded by the Black Mamas Matter Alliance, the week-long campaign is held during National Minority Health Month and begins each year on April 11, which is recognized as the International Day for Maternal Health and Rights. To promote these efforts, Dr. Lea Porche, Maternal Fetal Medicine Specialist at CHRISTUS Children’s, has penned a series of three articles to highlight disparities that exist and share educational information for both providers and patients. This is the third article in that series.
According to the March of Dimes, in 2021, one in every 10 babies in the U.S. was born prematurely—meaning they were born before 37 weeks gestation. Like maternal mortality, racial disparities also exist when it comes to preterm birth in the U.S., with 14.2% of Black infants born prematurely compared to only 9.2% of their white counterparts. Although the reasons for this are not fully understood, many of the same patient, community, provider, and system factors are believed to contribute to this occurrence.
It is important for patients to be aware of the signs of preterm labor, which can differ significantly between the second and third trimesters. In the second trimester especially, it is common for patients to have no idea they are in labor. Typically, symptoms of labor that early could include painless tightening in the abdomen, a dull backache, a slight sensation of pelvic pressure, and vaginal spotting. Also, any cramping that is increasing in frequency or leaking fluid should be addressed. In the third trimester, symptoms of labor may include regular contractions—which feel like a painful tightening in the abdomen—rhythmic back pain, vaginal bleeding or a sudden increase in discharge and increased pelvic pressure.
We recommend that women who do go into labor prematurely seek the highest level of care available to them, as expertise and specialized resources can improve outcomes for both mothers and their babies. Maternal transport services are available for expectant mothers who need to be transferred to CHRISTUS Children’s to receive a higher level of care for both mother and baby. For mothers who give birth prematurely in an outside facility, CHRISTUS Children’s offers neonatal and pediatric transport available 24/7 to transfer critically ill neonates and infants in need of a high level of care. In addition, CHRISTUS Children’s has a Level IV NICU—the highest designation available—which means we can provide the most specialized level of care to babies born prematurely.
Common Conditions Premature Babies Experience
Chronic Lung Disease
Babies born prematurely often experience issues related to their lungs because the air sacs are not fully developed. Many premature babies require extra oxygen or mechanical ventilation to help them breathe as their lungs continue to grow outside the womb.
This is a life-threatening intestinal condition that can occur in premature babies because their fragile intestines are prone to injury and breakdown. Specialized care can help prevent and address this issue in preterm babies.
Retinopathy of Prematurity
Retinopathy of Prematurity is an eye condition in which a baby’s retinal blood vessels begin to grow abnormally, which can cause the retina to detach and sometimes lead to vision loss. Specialized care at a Level IV NICU can help prevent this condition and treat it if it does occur.
Intraventricular hemorrhage is a rare condition in which the ventricles inside the brain bleed because the blood vessels are underdeveloped and prone to breakage. This is similar to a small stroke and needs to be monitored carefully and addressed immediately.
It is important that babies born prematurely are cared for in a facility that can address all of these issues, both before and after delivery. Maternal fetal medicine physicians specialize in caring for women at increased risk for preterm delivery, and the appropriate care prior to delivery helps the neonatologists (or high-risk pediatricians) provide the best care for babies after delivery. At CHRISTUS Children’s, we have a multidisciplinary and coordinated team of specialists who can care for preterm babies to ensure that the best possible outcomes are achieved.