Last year, 13% of Louisiana women who gave birth had their child at least three weeks early, the second highest rate in the nation, according to a March of Dimes report released today.
That premature birth rate, the fraction of births that occurred before the 37th week of pregnancy, is a 10-year high for the state and earned it a failing grade in the report.
Orleans Parish’s rate was slightly higher than the state’s average, coming in at 13.5%. The highest rate in the state was Caddo Parish at 18.1%, nearly double the national average.
Pregnant black women in Louisiana are affected at much higher rates than their white counterparts, with 16% and 10.6% preterm births respectively.
Part of the reason for Louisiana’s high ranking could be its high poverty rate among young women. Nearly one in four women between 15 and 44 years old are in poverty, according to the report.
March of Dimes said its goal for 2020 is to get the premature birth rate down to 8.1% or lower. In 2018, only Oregon met that goal.
Mississippi’s rate of 14.2% was the highest in the nation. Other states that received a failing grade, with a premature birth rate at 11.5% or higher, are Arkansas, Alabama, Georgia, West Virginia and the territory of Puerto Rico.
The average cost of a preterm birth is $60,000, when also accounting for early intervention services and special education services once the child is born.
March of Dimes credits the 2016 Medicaid expansion by Gov. John Bel Edwards with lowering rates of premature birth for black infants in the state. The report recommends extending Medicaid maternity coverage for women a year after birth instead of 60 days after birth and to have prenatal care groups and committees further research maternal death.
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