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Wisconsin's premature birth rate rises again

Risk even higher for African-American women
Posted at 4:15 PM, Nov 01, 2017
and last updated 2017-11-01 17:53:43-04

More babies continue to be born prematurely in Wisconsin, according to new numbers released Wednesday by the March of Dimes. 

It's something concerning for doctors, especially in Milwaukee where a woman's race and zip code can put her at higher risk. 

Babies born before 37 weeks are considered premature. If they survive, they can face lifelong health problems like disabilities and chronic illness.

Doctors like Camille Garrison work every day to help mothers have a healthy pregnancy. Garrison is the Medical College of Wisconsin's family medicine residency program director at Columbia St. Mary’s. 

She says new numbers released by the March of Dimes are alarming. 

"It really should be alarming for all of us because here in the United States, prematurity mimics some of the undeveloped countries," she said. 

According to March of Dimes, Wisconsin's preterm birth rate rose to 9.6 percent last year. Up from 9.4 percent in 2015. 

That earned the state a "C" on March of Dimes' report card.

While 2016 numbers weren't available for Milwaukee County, in 2015 the rate was 10.6 percent, the highest in the state. 

Garrison says while smoking, substance abuse and mood disorders can all increase a woman's risk of delivering premature, she says an even greater factor is the woman's race and neighborhood. 

"The inner city is most affected by prematurity and infant mortality," said Garrison. "I think we have a strong history of segregation in our city and marginalization. I think the health disparities that we see follow along those same lines." 

According to the March of Dimes, the preterm birth rate among black women in Wisconsin is 54 percent higher than the rate among all other women.

"A lot of the inequities we see in health care, a lot of the inequities in education that we see, in socioeconomic status, those really do affect people's health," said Garrison. 

She says because those things aren't treatable with medicine, it's harder to address the issue. 

"For a country that has such great medical technology and access to care, you would really think our numbers would not be the way that they are," she said. 

Milwaukee leaders launched a Strong Baby Campaign last year, that promotes a home visit program with nurses. According to the city, 94 percent of the babies in that program were born at full-term.