Jan. 31, 2024 – The rate of babies born prematurely in the US grew 12% from 2014 to 2022 to nearly 8.7%, with pronounced racial and age disparities among the mothers. Black mothers were almost twice as likely as white mothers to give birth before babies reached full term, 12.5% versus 7.6% respectively. Similarly, women older than 40 had a greater risk of preterm birth compared with women aged 20-29, 12.5% versus 8.23%. 

“What’s important here is, with all of the research we’ve done to try to decrease preterm birth, we still have not found the solution,” said Cynthia Gyamfi-Bannerman, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist and president-elect of the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine. “It’s because we actually don’t know what instigates preterm birth in many cases.”

The new NCHS report is significant for a few reasons. First, it reinforces data showing the stubbornly high rate of preterm birth in the US. It also highlights the potential risks of starting families later in life – in the past decade, there has been a shift toward women giving birth in their early 40s.

Lastly, it highlights glaring and ongoing racial disparities between Black women and their white and Hispanic counterparts. Researchers have hypothesized that these disparities may be attributable to “weathering”, or premature ageing attributable to the stress of racism and deprivation. Gyamfi-Bannerman said that although weathering may be part of the problem, preterm birth is probably “multi-factorial”.