African Americans and prematurity: The increased risks many moms face

African American women and prematurityThere are an alarming number of preterm births in the U.S., with more than a half million babies born prematurely (before 37 weeks gestation) each year.

For reasons unknown, African Americans experience the highest rate of prematurity at 17.1 percent, which is dramatically higher than the national average of 12 percent.

In fact, the risk of preterm birth for African-American women is approximately 1.5 times the rate seen in Caucasian women.

Because they were not able to fully develop in their mother’s womb, preemies have unique health needs, often requiring specialized medical attention.

Dr.-Michael-ForbesPreemies often have underdeveloped lungs and immature immune systems, putting them at increased risk of developing a serious infection from a common respiratory virus known as respiratory syncytial virus (or RSV).

RSV is the leading cause of infant hospitalizations for babies during the first year of life, and affects nearly all babies by age 2.

Premature infants are twice as likely to be admitted to the hospital for RSV-related symptoms compared with infants born at full term. They also stay 2 times longer in the hospital than infants born at full term who are hospitalized for severe RSV disease.

Parents of all babies, particularly preemies, should be on the lookout for the signs and symptoms of severe RSV disease:

  • Coughing or wheezing that does not stop
  • Fast or troubled breathing
  • Spread-out nostrils and/or a caved-in chest when trying to breathe
  • Bluish color around the mouth or fingernails
  • Fever (especially if it is over 100.4°F in infants under 3 months of age)

Parents of babies who may be at high risk for severe RSV disease should talk to their doctor to learn all the ways to help protect their baby.

Visit rsvprotection.com for more information.

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About Dr. Michael Forbes - Pediatric Intensivist

Dr. Forbes is a pediatric critical care medicine specialist and director of clinical research and outcomes analysis at Akron Children’s Hospital

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