PROVIDENCE (WPRI) — Each year, March of Dimes issues a report card, grading every state on preterm birth rates and other factors while also identifying ways to improve the health of mothers and their babies.
In this year’s report, released this week, Rhode Island was given a B- grade.
“In Rhode Island, we’re doing things better than the rest of the country, in terms of being able to provide support for mothers and babies,” said Dr. Phyllis Dennery, pediatrician-in-chief at Hasbro Children’s Hospital. “But there’s still a long way to go.”
According to the report, released this week, the United States pre-term birth rate is 10.1% — which means about one in ten babies are born premature, or before 37 weeks.
In Rhode Island, the pre-term birth rate stands at 9.1%, an improvement compared to last year, when the rate was 9.5%.
“We are making some progress, but that progress will have to be sustained before we start rejoicing,” Dennery said.
That’s because not everyone is seeing improvement. Statistics are far worse for moms and babies of color.
The pre-term birth rate for Black women is 40% higher than the rate among other women in Rhode Island.
Black and Latino moms are also more likely to die during or in the months after giving birth.
Dennery said inequities in healthcare are largely to blame.
“In Black populations there’s two factors: access, and also racism,” Dr. Dennery said. “So, if you go to a provider and you’re not treated well, there’s a good chance you won’t be going as frequently, or feel as supported.”
While there’s no easy solution, Dennery said drawing attention to the discrepancies can help.
Another potential fix comes through legislation, according to Dr. Dennery, who pointed to a bill signed this year by Gov. Dan McKee that helps provide doulas, or people who support mothers during pregnancy and afterwards.
“We, too, have to be there to support these families, as physicians, as nurses, as laypeople, we should all be able to support mothers who are pregnant, and guide them,” Dennery said.