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Premature baby

Mother Neykeaya Ellison holds her infant daughter Ta'liya Thomas in her arms on Nov. 8, 2013, in the All Saints Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. 

RACINE — Wisconsin and Racine County residents are still facing high premature birth rates, according to a new report, but data show Ascension All Saints Hospital continues to make strides at reducing premature births among its patients.

Released late last month by the March of Dimes, the 2016 Premature Birth Report Card gave Wisconsin a grade “C” for having a preterm birth rate of 9.4 percent in 2015, a decrease from the “B” it received in 2014 when its rate was 9.2 percent.

Racine County, earned a “D” in the 2016 report, for its 2014 preterm birth rate of 10.9 percent — the most recent data available for the county.

Produced annually, the report card is part of the March of Dimes’ efforts to reduce the preterm birth rate across the country. States that had a rate closer to 8.1 percent — the preterm birth rate the organization would like to see reached by 2020 — received better grades than their counterparts.

Better rate

The report’s findings may leave Racine County with another poor score, but a program at Ascension All Saints Hospital, 3801 Spring St., is continuing to see successes at reducing its preterm birth rate.

In 2015, the hospital had a 9.9 percent preterm birth rate among all moms who gave birth at the hospital, including women who may not live Racine County.

And the rate was far lower for the 402 women who participated in the hospital’s Centering Pregnancy program between July 2013 and June 2016. The overall rate for participants over the three-year period was 5.7 percent, according to Margaret Malnory, administrative director for Women and Children services and staffing support at All Saints.

Under the Centering Pregnancy program, pregnant moms, and sometimes dads, meet with their health care provider and a group other pregnant moms, instead of having individual appointments.

Collaborative

The group was developed in 2013 as part of a grant the communitywide, multiorganizational group named The Greater Racine Collaborative for Healthy Birth Outcomes received from the March of Dimes.

The collaborative came together in 2006 to address the area’s high infant mortality rate. After seeing successes in reducing that number, the collaborative began to set its sights on another goal — reducing the number of preterm births among Racine County residents.

Premature babies — those born before 37 weeks of age — are more likely to die or face health or cognitive challenges.

The primary goal of the Centering Pregnancy model is to reduce stress among its program participants, Malnory, who is a nurse, explained.

The groups, which are comprised of five to 10 moms, start meeting when members are about 20 weeks pregnant. The moms will have their prenatal check at the beginning of the two-hour meeting, and the rest of the time will be spent talking about a topic.

“You get the support from the other members of the group and added provider time,” Malnory explained. “You could be a 15-year-old, or you might be someone who works at SC Johnson. Everyone is getting the same level of support.”

Racial disparities

Centering Pregnancy is open to All Saints patients of all stripes, but there is a hope that it is working to address an even bigger issue: the higher preterm birth rate experienced by minorities.

The preterm birth rate for black women in Wisconsin in 2015 was 44 percent higher than the rate among other women in the state, according to the March of Dimes report.

Similar disparities can be seen here in Racine.

Of the extremely preterm babies born at All Saints in 2015 — babies born sometime between 24 weeks and just shy of 34 weeks — 49 percent were white and 35.6 black, Malnory said.

But if you look at the fact that 47.3 percent of the delivering mothers at All Saints are white, and, 23.9 percent are black, that means that most of those very preterm births were experienced by black mothers.

The rates are lower for babies born between 34 and 37 weeks, but the reality is still disconcerting, Malnory states.

“It is in the very preterm where the disparity is very large,” she points out, “and those are the most vulnerable babies.”

A helping hand

The collaborative has numerous programs to assist those mothers, such as home visits by nurses, and its partnership with the YMCA’s Focus on Fathers initiative, which, among other things, teaches would-be dads how to be more supportive.

Still, one of the biggest contributors to the stress in these women’s lives is racism, Malnory said.

Racism creates stress in the lives of the black women regardless of their income level, Malnory explained, and that stress, carried by their mothers, gets passed on to them, and then on to their babies.

“It goes from generation to generation,” Malnory said.

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