In Washtenaw County, black infants are two times more likely to die than white infants before their first birthday, and more than two times more likely to be born premature or low birth weight. Many of these deaths and preterm births are preventable by helping all women stay healthier during their childbearing years, whether they are currently pregnant or not.
What causes very low birth weight?
The primary cause of very low birth weight is premature birth (born before 37 weeks gestation). Very low birth weight babies are often born before 30 weeks of pregnancy. Being born early means a baby has less time in the mother's uterus to grow and gain weight. Much of a baby's weight is gained during the latter part of pregnancy.
Who is at risk for having a very low birth weight baby?
Any baby born prematurely is more likely to be very small. However, there are other factors that can also contribute to the risk of very low birth weight. These include:
- Race: African-American babies are twice as likely to have very low birth weight compared to Caucasian babies. Why? Medical researchers now suspect that a lifetime of chronic stress caused by racial discrimination can negatively impact pregnancy, as well as other health outcomes.
- Age: Teen mothers (especially those younger than 15 years old) have a much higher risk of having a baby with very low birth weight.
- Multiple births: Multiple birth babies are at an increased risk of very low birth weight because they often are premature. About 10 percent of twins and more than one-third of triplets have very low birth weight.
- Mother's health: Women who are exposed to drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes during pregnancy are more likely to have low or very low birth weight babies. Mothers of lower socioeconomic status are also more likely to have higher levels of stress, poorer pregnancy nutrition, inadequate prenatal care, and pregnancy complications - all factors that can contribute to very low birth weight.
For More Information:
- Smoking While Pregnant: A brief describing smoking rates and outcomes for mothers in Washtenaw County.
- Washtenaw County Health Resources: List of local agencies and phone numbers to contact for assistance with a variety of health services, ranging from alcohol abuse, to emergency housing, to weight management.
- “When the Bough Breaks” PBS series Unnatural Causes: Is Inequality Making Us Sick? available at the Ann Arbor District Library.
- Infant Mortality Statistics: Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, Vital Records and Health Statistics.